The Many Faces of Windows

It has been a poorly kept secret that Microsoft has been intending to stratify its Windows offerings, in order to best reach a price point and feature set that fits each market. We already saw a portion of this with the initial launch of Windows XP, which was split into two versions: XP Home for home computer use, and XP Professional for business/office/workstation use. Since then, Microsoft has further augmented that lineup with XP Starter Edition for emerging markets, an HTPC-oriented version with XP Media Center Edition, and of course their enterprise server software Windows Server 2003.

With Vista, Microsoft will continue this trend and will be designing 6 separate versions of Vista: Starter, Business, Enterprise, Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate. As Starter will only be available in select countries, most users will have a choice among the other 5 versions of Vista, which are in turn broken into two categories based on the target user audience and features.

Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate are targeted at home users, separated by cost and features. While Microsoft already has a version of Windows for emerging markets, Home Basic, the 2nd most stripped down version of Vista, will also include a number of handicaps like: not supporting the eye-candy or productivity features of the new Aero interface, limited communication abilities, and an interesting 8GB/1 physical processor cap that may become an issue in a couple of years. While Microsoft has compared this to XP Home and targeted it towards households with only one computer, under their current proposal it'll likely end up too limiting for many users, but it will also be the cheapest version of Windows possible.

Home Premium in turn will be the first consumer version of Windows to come loaded with a more realistically complete feature set, comparable to XP Media Center edition. Home Premium will include full Aero interface functionality, the Media Center application, video authoring applications, an increased RAM cap of 16GB, and better computer networking abilities that will only lack certain business features. It will also still only support a single physical processor (i.e. one socket), though with quad core chips launching next year it's questionable how many people will really need more than that.

Last and not least rounding out the consumer side of Windows will be the nebulous Windows Vista Ultimate, which Microsoft has pitched as the version of Windows that includes everything from both the consumer and business categories. At this point Microsoft hasn't made it clear what is really going to separate Ultimate from some of the other versions of Vista, so it's likely there will be some changes before it ships. So far on top of including all the Vista features from both sides (including the business side's processor and memory support), Ultimate will include the System Assessment Tool, which Microsoft is pitching as a way to predict computer performance for use in adjusting game settings.

Moving over to the business side, Vista Business and Enterprise will be the successors to XP Professional. Business is almost exactly like XP Professional as we know it now, coming with most of Vista's features from both the business and consumer sides. As the only consumer features lacking at this point are the video authority and Media Center applications, it seems likely that Business will end up being the OS of choice for many computer enthusiasts. This is something Microsoft wants to avoid, as they want enthusiasts to use the more feature packed (and expensive) Ultimate edition, so it's not impossible that the feature set may change before Vista launches.

Last on the business side is Enterprise edition, which is only intended for large businesses, and as the successor to XP Professional corporate edition it will only be available to volume license key holders, putting it out of the hands of individuals (who will need to purchase Ultimate edition to get Enterprise's features). New to Enterprise will be a built-in version of VirtualPC and an enhanced encryption ability that will be able to encrypt the entire OS instead of only user folders.

Still with us? On top of the 6 versions of Vista, Microsoft is also taking the 64-bit push very seriously with Vista, as enthusiasts are only a year or so away from reaching the 4GB RAM limit of IA-32. As a result, all versions of Vista except for Starter will also come in a 64-bit version signified by the x64 moniker (versus x86 for the 32-bit version), with both versions planned to be included with each copy of Windows at this time. Our beta version of Vista came on two separate DVDs, one for x86 and one for x64, but we're not sure at this point if Microsoft is going to package Vista in a dual-layer DVD with an installer that can pick the right version, or if it will continue to come on separate discs. It's also worth noting that Vista will choose which version of itself to install based on the product key used, as now all versions (for x64 and x86) will use the same installation media, which will be a relief for doing reinstalls. Vista will also be upgradeable; Microsoft is planning on allowing users to purchase updates over the internet to allow them to upgrade from Home Basic to Home Premium, for example. Since there's now a common media, users will only need to put the installation disc back into let the unlocked features install.

Finally, Microsoft will still be shipping stripped down versions of Windows for the European market that lack the Windows Media Player, with versions of both Business and Home Basic being available. Since these will also apparently come in x86 and x64 versions, this brings the total number of unique versions of Vista up to 15. At present, there is no successor to Windows Server 2003, but that will probably become available in time.

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  • stash - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Sleep is more effecient in the long run. Shutting down and doing a cold boot every day uses a lot more electricity than sleep. When the machine is in sleep, it uses a fraction of a single watt. Yes, this is obviously more than zero (completely off), but when you cold boot a system, it uses many times more power.

    As a side benefit, you get back to where you left off almost instantly because sleep combines standby with hibernation.
  • Griswold - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Oh so wrong. Why would a cold boot use more power? Because the HDDs spin up? Going from sleep to full on does the same. Because the OS has to be loaded from the HDD? Sleep mode also writes to disk. And thats actually it. This is a computer, not an engine that uses more fuel at startup than when it runs.
  • stash - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    When you can resume from sleep in a few seconds compared to 45-60 seconds from a cold boot, then yes, a cold boot uses much more power.
  • johnsonx - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Stash, your logic is faulty. Please give up.
  • stash - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Why should I give up? How is my logic faulty.
  • smitty3268 - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    <I>Is Expose the same as the new compiz and XGL?</I>

    No, that is more like the Aero interface or OSX's Quartz Extreme. Expose lets you hit a button and then automatically scales and moves every window so that you can see them all and pick out which program you want to use. Think of it as a replacement for ALT-TAB. There is a plugin in compiz that does the same thing.
  • Locutus465 - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Not sure what your issues with 3D were, I only skimmed the artical so I'm sure which video card you used... But it's possible that if you're using ATI you experienced problems due to their drivers. I've seen many more ATI issues in the MS groups than nVida. My 7800GT has no problem with 1600x1200 (full 3d acceloration, no apparent crashing). My only concern wth Vista 64 is drivers... As of right now there's no driver avaailable for the Promies Ultra100TX2 controller card which is a huge issue for me as I have my secondary drive (used to store installers and as my page file drive in XP). I hope MS manages to convince to support 64b as well as 32b is supported. When I do upgrade to Vista, it will be to 64b.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Page 10: using 6800 Ultra card.

    The problem is both with drivers (64-bit are still being worked on), the OS (still being worked on), and resource requierments are increased under 64-bit mode. Compatibility with various hardware is already worse with Vista, but 64-bit mode is even worse still. Can they fix it before shipping? Hopefully, and one way or another we're going 64-bit in the future.

    It could be that other test systems would be more or less stable, but with a preview of Vista Beta 2 that's really too much extra work. The article was already over 12000 words, so trying it out on five other platforms would make this monolithic task even more daunting. The bottom line is that Vista is still interesting, but it's definitely not ready for release. There's a good reason it has been delayed until 2007, just like the XP x64 delays in the past.
  • DerekWilson - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    We have tested Vista with both ATI and NVIDIA drivers and see similar issues between the two. While the numbers were gathered under NVIDIA hardware, we are confident that the same patterns would emerge with ATI at this point in time.
  • Locutus465 - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Well, weird... I've had my share of beta issues but thus far Glass + 3D acceleration hasn't been one of them. I have noticed that installing QuickTime 7 on Vista (at least in my case) renders Vista Ultimite 64 unbootable.

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