If you're a typical consumer, most likely you've been running Windows XP Home since the day you bought your computer from your favorite retailer (online or in-person). You probably knew there was a Professional version of Windows XP but it's quite possible that you didn't even know there was a Media Center Edition or a Tablet PC Edition of Windows XP.
If this is the case, you are undoubtedly confused about all these new versions of Windows Vista. Well, you don't need to be, it's really pretty simple ...
For all intents and purposes, Windows Vista comes in four 'flavors', two are for the consumer, one is for business, and one is for those who want to have it all! Starting at the top:
Ultimate has all the bells and whistles available today for Windows Vista ... and the "promise" of a whole lot more. Is it worth it? It can be if you're upgrading two or three machines, thanks to the Windows Family Discount. Otherwise, unless you just have to be the first one on your block to have those promised Ultimate Extras!, probably not.
Business is the Vista equivalent of Windows XP Pro -- right down to the familiar pricing structure. If you've been using Windows XP Professional, this is the edition for you.
Home Premium is really Media Center and Tablet PC edition rolled into one -- at a $60 up-tick in price over its 'little brother' ...
Home Basic is the direct replacement for Windows XP Home -- and its priced the same as Windows XP Home.
So what's wrong with Home Basic?
Nothing, absolutely nothing! But that's not the image that Microsoft wants to plant in the back of your mind. If you have been running Windows XP Home, then you won't miss anything by moving to Vista Home Basic -- except the AERO interface! It's name itself implies that Basic is somehow crippled -- and, by removing the AERO interface from the edition, in this respect, it has been crippled by our friends in Redmond. But why?
One might conclude that Microsoft has left AERO out of Basic so it will run on a system with only 512MB of RAM -- but so will the Ultimate edition of Vista so that's not it.
No, AERO will not run under Ultimate with so little RAM. AERO is dependent upon a high-performance graphics card and 1GB of RAM, regardless of the edition installed. There is a good chance that no matter what edition of Vista you buy, in order to get the AERO experience you will have to upgrade your graphics card as well.
So why would MS leave AERO out of Vista Home Basic?
Well, I have a theory. It is worth noting that the upgrade version of every Microsoft consumer OS since MS-DOS has had a retail price of $100 and a street price around $90 -- the same as the upgrade price of for Home Basic.
With Vista, we see for the first time a 'premium' version of their consumer Windows product that was not tied to special hardware. (Media Center and the Tablet PC edition were both introduced with specific hardware configurations.)
Cynically, I think the explanation is very simple. I believe that, with Vista, Microsoft wants to move its retail pricing structure for consumers up to $240(full)/$160(upgrade). I expect that Windows Vista Home Basic will soon disappear from store shelves -- never to be seen again.
Once those that choose to upgrade their old hardware have done so, Microsoft will have no incentive at all to sell Vista Home Basic in the retail channel. Instead, expect to see Basic relegated to OEM 'loss-leader' status, You know, those lame machines that get you in the door at super low prices so your vendor can entice you to 'move up' to Home Premium -- and by the way, you'll need more RAM!
My advice? If you have an existing system with sufficient resources to run AERO, then go ahead and upgrade to Home Premium if you want but don't waste your money upgrading hardware that is out of warranty just to get 'the AERO experience'. Stick with Vista Home Basic for that. You won't be disappointed!