Breaking down the Windows Vista versions

Breaking down the Windows Vista versions

Summary: Which version of Windows Vista will work best for you and your organization? I've gone through each version, feature by feature, and made a list of which features are available only in specific Vista versions. This article, first in a two-part series, includes end-user features such as Windows Media Center, the Aero interface, backup, and encryption.

TOPICS: Windows

Microsoft announced the broad outlines of its Windows Vista lineup a few months ago. In all, there are five mainstream editions: three for home users, two aimed at businesses. (This count tosses out Windows Vista Starter edition, which will be sold only with low-end PCs in emerging markets, and the two N versions mandated for sale in the European Union, which remove some media-related features.)

What’s in each version? The long-neglected Windows Backup program has received a complete makeover for Windows Vista. Microsoft has been mum on the breakdown of features so far, but a close look at the preliminary Windows Vista Product Guide, which was briefly made available for download last week and then quickly pulled, offers details. The feature matrix in that document is broken down in a way that supports Microsoft’s marketing messages. I’ve gone through the whole table carefully. pulled out all features that are unavailable in one or more versions, and organized the information in a way that helps potential upgraders make smart buying decisions. This article, first in a two-part series, focuses on end-user features. Part two looks at advanced networking and system administration features.


You want the full Aero interface, with transparent title bars, Flip 3D, and swooshing windows? Make sure you have the right hardware, and get any version except Home Basic. Even with the best video adapter in the world, that entry-level version won’t use the advanced Aero effects.

Hardware Support

All 32-bit versions of Windows Vista are limited to 4GB of RAM. If you choose to install the 64-bit Windows Vista code on a system whose CPU supports it, your RAM limits vary according to which version you’re installing. For Home Basic, RAM tops out at 8GB. Home Premium users can install and use up to 16GB of RAM. The Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate versions support 128GB of RAM or more.

If you have a PC with multiple processor sockets (not to be confused with dual-core CPUs or hyperthreading), the second processor will go unused if you install the Home Basic or Home Premium edition of Windows Vista. The two Business versions and Ultimate will make use of up to two CPUs.

Notebook and Tablet PC Features

If you’re planning to run Windows Vista on a Tablet PC, you can use any version except the stripped-down Home Basic edition. All of the Tablet PC features – integrated support for pens and digital ink, touch screen support, and handwriting recognition – are found in the Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions only.

For all other notebooks, Windows Vista includes a new Mobility Center, which provides quick access to commonly used features like power management and control over external displays.


The Windows Mobility Center is only partially supported in the Home Basic and Home Premium editions, although it’s not clear which features are missing.

And if your new portable device has a small auxiliary display that’s powered by the Windows SideShow feature, steer clear of Home Basic – that edition won’t recognize SideShow displays.

Parental Controls

The three home flavors of Windows Vista offer the capability to restrict access to games and other programs, limit the times when specific user accounts can log on, and filter web browsing. These features are unavailable in the Business and Enterprise editions.


Digital Media and Games

Do you want Windows Media Center features, including the 10-foot interface, the ability to record and playback standard or high-definition TV, and support for CableCARD devices and Media Center Extenders (including Xbox 360)? Then you’ll need either the Home Premium edition or Windows Vista Ultimate. Media Center features are missing from Home Basic, Business, and Enterprise versions.

Most other digital media features are similarly restricted. The Home Basic edition offers the basic Movie Maker package, but you’ll need Home Premium or Ultimate to create and edit high-definition movies with Movie Maker HD, or to burn those projects to DVD with Windows DVD Maker. Likewise, only Home Premium and Ultimate offer the ability to create and play back themed slide shows. None of these features are in the Business or Enterprise editions.

Games? The new premium Windows Vista games are completely missing from Home Basic and available as an option (not installed by default) in Business and Enterprise editions.

Faxing and Scanning

The Windows Fax and Scan program is installed by default in the Business edition, available as an optional component in Ultimate and Enterprise, and unavailable in Home Basic and Home Premium.

Backup and Encryption

The good news? The long-neglected Windows Backup program has received a complete makeover for Windows Vista. Its basic functionality is available in every Vista version. Some advanced features, including the capability to schedule backups or use a network device as the backup medium, are missing from the Home Basic edition.

In Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions, a new option allows you to create an image-based backup rather than a file-by-file backup. In these editions only, you can also turn on Windows Shadow Copy, a feature formerly found only in Windows server versions, which maintains backup copies of changed files so you can roll back to a previous version of a file directly from Windows Explorer.

The Encrypting File System, which allows file- or folder-level encryption of data, is available only on the Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions. BitLocker Drive Encryption, which uses a physical hardware key and a passcode to secure an entire volume from unauthorized access, is available only with the Enterprise and Ultimate editions.

In part two of this series, I explain which advanced networking and administration features are available in different Vista versions.

Topic: Windows

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  • Consumer confusion

    Given that it's taking you two articles to explain all the different versions of Vista, how easy is it going to be for Joe Sixpack to figure out which to buy?
    tic swayback
    • I figure there will be a standard version...

      That will be adopted in all OEM computers.. They won't even know the differences tic..

      Ask any user (even users like us) what the difference between Home and Professional is? Most won't be able to give you anything specific other than generic.. "Professional has more networking capabilities" :)

      Now as your average home user what the difference is? You can bet most of them have Home Version and wouldn't even use the capabilities of the Professional version. Since most use their computers for Internet Browsing, Messaging, and games. :P
      • Forgot to add...

        I know this though, because of my MSDN.. I will be using the full blown version. Although I know I'll be at more security risk. The benefits of a nice looking interface etc will be a nice change.

        And last but not least.. The only reason I'll be going to the full blown version? It's included in my MSDN Subscription. Otherwise I don't think I'd adopt Vista legally for a couple more years. Heck I'm not even sure I'd pirate it. May not be worth the hassle. XP works.
      • The differences between XP Home and Pro ...

        are easy to qualify. XP Home only supports 5 simultaneous network connections. XP Pro supports 10 simultaneous network connections. XP Home cannot participate in ADS domain.
    • Not a big problem

      For most retail buyers, as I've explained before, the choices will be very clear. Home Basic is for entry-level cheap PCs. Home Premium adds Media Center and core Tablet features. Ultimate adds a bunch of enterprise features and a few advanced goodies.

      The purpose of this two-part series is to help people who have specific needs for specific features. This group is a small minority of all buyers but is disproportionately represented in technical communities like ZDNet.
      Ed Bott
      • We'll have to see

        I guess we'll have to see how it works out. With so many different versions, I'd be worried that a good number of customers will get whatever comes with their computer, only to later realize that it can't do some things that they want it to do. They'll have to lay out $ for an upgrade and they may feel resentful because of this.

        As you say, this may be a tiny minority of users, but given the low rankings MS has in recent studies of brand trust, one would think they'd do what they can to make it very clear to consumers what they are or are not getting with their OS:
        tic swayback
        • I Remember Being That Person

          In the late 90s. Buying the computer I could afford and being
          miffed because it was "crippled" ( well, that was my point of view
          -- the vendors called it a beginner or non-premium model).

          Now I know we are all having a polite discussion, but won't this
          be another contrast that makes Microsoft look a little
          disadvantageous to operating systems from companies that start
          with the letter A? For the A Co there will be one box (well, next
          year there will be two as they support the PowerPC models) and
          all the new A computers get the full graphics and networking
          and whatever media support there might be, whether the
          budget, mid-line, or premium model was purchased.
          • Except at some point following a ...

            ...time honored tradition at Apple and Microsoft the PowerPC guys will be abandoned. How do you think that will affect the Apple brand?
          • There will be no effect on Apple

            [i]How do you think that will affect the Apple brand?[/i]

            Apple users have convinced themselves that everything Apple does is acceptable. If Apple drops support for loyal users on the PowerPC platform, it is because Jobs knows best. If MS drops support for Windows 3.1 apps in Vista, it is because Bill Gates is [b]EVIL[/b]. Ahh, Apple zealots bring a smile to my face -> :)
          • We're used to it by now

            ---the PowerPC guys will be abandoned---

            Eh, the same thing happened to the 680x0 guys, to the OS9 guys, etc. I guess Mac users are just willing to make sacrifices in the name of progress.

            Those who aren't are running old machines (figure 5 years plus before PPC is totally abandoned), and probably not all that interested in new software/hardware.
            tic swayback
        • Great source for your conclusion

          A pro-Apple site quotes a research report with no link to it and we are supposed to take it on faith that it is factual. Who funded the research and how was it conducted?
          • Shhhh ShadeTree, don't hold him to MS standards!!

            We all know how well respected MS funded studies are received here, no point in holding anyone else to the same standards!
          • Yes, please hold me to higher standards than MS

            ---We all know how well respected MS funded studies are received here, no point in holding anyone else to the same standards!---

            Exactly right, everyone should be held to higher standards. If you can find any evidence that this study was funded by Apple, please present it, or hold your tongue next time you care to challenge my integrity without any evidence whatsoever.
            tic swayback
          • Huh?

            Yahoo is a pro-Apple site? Wow, that's a new one on me. Are you saying that Forrester Research is just a front for Apple as well? Here is the actual study:

            If you can find any evidence that this broad, wide-ranging study was secretly funded by Apple, please present it.
            tic swayback
          • tic... you know Shadetree, NonZealot, etc are always

            totally honest, unbiased and fonts of 100% accurate information.

            They only accept studies and reports (ie, TCO/ROI, trust, etc) commissioned by Microsoft and anything else is irrelevant or tainted or biased or, well, just plain wrong. </sarcasm>

            Personal/business agendas (ie, Shadetrees position) and/or MS-coloured glasses will do that to you.


          • Joe you kill me!!! Where Shade might like too...:)

            Pagan jim
          • Joseph and Tic can always be counted on ...

            ... to contribute there Apple biased slant to everything. Shouldn't you be over in the Burst sues Apple talkback telling us how unjust it is?
          • Shadetree can always be counted on ...

            ... to contribute his ([b]their[/b]!!!) anti-Apple biased slant to everything.

            You make such an easy (AND NUMEROUS!!!) target that's almost impossible to miss. (at least 10 of 76 posts on this thread... 38 out of 181 on a past thread... busy little beaver you are)

            Why should I be over in the "Burst sues Apple" talkback when you seem to be fulfilling your job description so well, ie, trolling and Apple-bashing... flooding the threads with pro-MS/Windows, anti-Apple rhetoric?

            Personally, I can't seem to find the time to troll these sites like you do (a little thing called "work" gets in the way) but I don't really need to read all your posts anyway because, like George Ou, the content is so predictable and often inaccurate.

            Get your "facts" correct more often than wrong (and separated from bias, opinion and agenda) and you wouldn't be such an easy target.

            Gee... sorry, lunchtime is over and I need to get back to work.

            A foreign concept to you I realize, or as I've suggested before... IS cruising these stories your job???

        • Interesting comments in brand study.

          If Apple has 3% of the market, then the customers at-risk of switching to Apple are 3% of the market.
          (I don't know how Forrester is defining the Apple market share, but the article does say it could double if everyone switched.)

          The quote being considered:
          "Compared with all Microsoft users, these at-risk users [those with an unfavorable or slightly unfavorable view of the brand] have higher income, are much more likely to be male and are bigger online spenders.
          These households know they run Microsoft software but would be just as happy to leave it behind ? if they could. Apple could double its PC share by winning Microsoft?s at-risk customers.?

          These are home users. I wonder why the author included the "if they could" qualification.

          Given their higher incomes, these people could afford the product and the replacement for the Windows-version software they have purchased. How many applications are irreplaceable on Macs?

          Another brief observation shows Apple's problem with gaining a larger share of the market: "These households know they run Microsoft software..." If that's rare enough to need stating, many users must not know what company provides their software.

          How could people give a favorable or unfavorable rating to a company if they don't know what product(s) by that company they are using?
          Given Microsoft's high brand recognition, many people must simply associate Microsoft with making their computers work. If the computer starts, Microsoft gets the credit.

          Considering those with an unfavorable view of Microsoft, the article notes:

          "The demographic of Microsoft?s at-risk customers fits well with Apple?s user base, which Forrester describes as 'affluent, optimistic about technology and brand aware.'"

          Affluent is an Apple requirement, and limitation.

          "Optimistic about technology" probably implies knowing at least enough to recognize the in-group requirement of criticizing Microsoft. If someone were trying to prove how knowledgeable he is about computers, would he be more likely to say "Windows works" or "Windows s-cks"?

          Perhaps the reason Apple has difficulty switching prospective buyers is because they don't feel their dissatisfaction strongly enough to act upon it.
          In fact, there is someobne question whether those saying they are dissatisfied actually have such emotions. Dissatisfied compared to what?
          Anton Philidor
    • Ford Colors

      [i]Given that it's taking you two articles to explain all the different versions of Vista, how easy is it going to be for Joe Sixpack to figure out which to buy?[/i]

      What makes you think Joe is going to be given a choice? Most of the Sixpack family doesn't even know that the OS is actually a separate part of the system.

      Put another way, they'll buy what they're told to.
      Yagotta B. Kidding