The Windows Vista Secret Decoder Ring

The conventional wisdom says Microsoft is making the biggest marketing blunder since New Coke by introducing a confusing mish-mash of Windows Vista versions. Nonsense. I took Microsoft's five-page feature table (which looks like a graduate thesis from the Rube Goldberg School of Business) and distilled it into a simple matrix that's not the least bit confusing.

Windows Vista won’t be on the street for another nine months, and already it’s built up an impressive collection of conventional wisdom — the kind of stuff everyone knows is true. At the top of the list is the idea that Microsoft is making the biggest marketing blunder since New Coke by introducing too many versions. Last September, when the first rumors of multiple Vista versions began appearing, I gathered up a representative sample of dire predictions and scornful dismissals, all of which incorporated some variation of the word “confusing.”

Now, in all fairness, Microsoft is guilty of shooting itself in the foot on this issue. They haven’t come out with a crisp, easy-to-understand explanation of the differences between the different Vista versions they announced. In fact, the preliminary Windows Vista Product Guide (briefly released earlier this month and then pulled) has a practically incomprehensible five-page feature table that looks like a graduate thesis from the Rube Goldberg School of Business.

Well, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Which is why I took that bulky table and distilled it into a simple matrix. A core set of Windows Vista features are common to every edition and aren't included in this table; if you want more than the basics, you can choose from four groups of additional features by selecting one of the four upgraded Vista versions: Home Premium, Business, Enterprise (available via volume license programs only), or Ultimate Edition, which incorporates every feature.

When you look at it the right way, it’s not confusing at all.

The Windows Vista Secret Decoder Ring


All Upgrade Editions
Windows Aero user interface (full)
Tablet PC support
Windows SideShow
Scheduled backup of user files
Back up user files to a network device
PC-to-PC Sync
Network Projection
Presentation Settings
Up to 10 simultaneous SMB connections
Windows Collaboration (full functionality)
Premium games [1]
Home Only
Parental Controls [2]  
Themed Slide Shows  
Windows Media Center (supports CableCARD, HDTV, and Media Center Extenders such as Xbox 360)  
Windows Movie Maker [2]  
Windows Movie Maker HD  
Windows DVD Maker  
Business Only
Support for two physical CPUs 
Support for 128+GB RAM (64-bit CPU) [3] 
Windows Mobility Center (full functionality)  
Remote Desktop (Host and Client)  
Windows Fax and Scan [4]  
Windows ShadowCopy  
System image-based backup/recovery  
Encrypting File System  
Wireless network provisioning  
Desktop deployment tools for managed networks.  
Policy-based quality of service for networking  
Windows Rights Management Services (RMS) Client  
Control installation of device drivers  
Network Access Protection Client Agent  
Pluggable logon authentication architecture  
Integrated Smart Card management  
Domain join (Windows Server/SBS) 
Group Policy support  
Offline files and folder support  
Client-Side Caching  
Roaming user profiles  
Folder redirection  
Centralized power management through Group Policy  
Internet Information Server [5]  
Enterprise Only
Windows BitLocker drive encryption  
Support for multiple UI languages   
Subsystem for UNIX-based Applications   
Virtual PC Express   

HP=Home Premium
BU=Business Edition
EN=Enterprise (volume license only)

[1] Optional; not part of default install in Business and Enterprise editions
[2] Also included with Home Basic Edition
[3] All 32–bit versions support a maximum of 4GB; with 64–bit CPUs, Home Basic and Home Premium editions support 8GB and 16GB, respectively.
[4] Optional; not part of default install in Enterprise and Ultimate
[5] Optional; not part of default install in any edition


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