The Windows Vista Secret Decoder Ring

The Windows Vista Secret Decoder Ring

Summary: 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.

TOPICS: Windows

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

Topic: Windows

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  • Not confusing at all?

    You know, the very fact that you had to come up with that matrix at
    all shows that there's something deeply wrong at Microsoft ...
    Jens T.
  • Lets read what others are writing about Vista

    "Shame on you, Microsoft. Shame on you, but not just for not
    doing better. We expect you to copy Apple, just as Apple (and
    Linux) in its turn copies you. But we do not and should not
    expect to be promised the world, only to be given a warmed
    over copy of Mac OS X Tiger in return. Windows Vista is a
    disappointment. There is no way to sugarcoat that very real

    Ouch!! Looking forward to another MS fanboy article on ZDNet
    Richard Flude
    • George needs to read that article...

      Great article. :)
    • Feeling disingenuous today?

      You, as one of the more outspoken anti-Microsoft scribblers here, did exactly what I would expect you to do--post a link to an article that was several months old, in reference to a build of Windows Vista Beta (build 5308), almost 300 builds older than Vista RC1 (build 5600.)

      If you read any of Paul's reviews of Vista RC1, you'll note that he changed his mind as to whether or not Vista is what Microsoft promised.

      You're almost as good as a professional political spinmeister.
      M.R. Kennedy
  • Still confused

    Can't be bothered with such a huge table.
    Why don't Microsoft just have Vista Home and Pro like for XP.
    How on earth will you know which version to use to run a peice of software? (vendors aren't great at this kind of thing). Unless Microsoft also set up a Ye Olde Web Shoppe where all vendors' software is displayed, and it tells you which ones will work, and which ones won't.
    • Two problems with that argument

      1. There are currently either 6 or 7 versions of Windows XP. I'll explain later.

      2. Just about any Windows program will run on any Windows Vista version. The only exceptions would be add-ins for Media Center or utilities that require enterprise networking features.

      But the first of those programs wouldn't run on either XP Home or XP Pro today. And the second wouldn't run on XP Home, only on Pro. How is the introduction of Windows Vista going to change anything?
      Ed Bott
  • Marketing BS from top to bottom

    The only reason MS is breaking the product up is to extract more money out of the entire market place. Other products will have the entry level, the mid-level and the premium level, why not Microsoft. Its like buying the "Eddie Bauer' version of a Ford Excursion or whatever freaking SUV Eddie Bauer is associated with. Home buyers need something as cheap as possible. The "Enterprise" version is the whole kit of bells and whistles at a Cadillac MSRP. BUT Enterprise organizations that can justify large rollouts don't pay full freight anyway! It all boils down to marketing. Its like buying Win2K3 Server, Win2K3 Advanced Server and then Win2K3 Enterprise Server. yeehaw! The Enterprise guys aren't going to pay $300 a copy for an OS, they certainly didn't when they bought 10000 copies of XP.
  • No Dual Processors for Games!?

    Is it true that Vista's "Home Premium" edition doesn't support dual processors? Dual processors are a huge advantage for keeping GUI interactions and backend calcuations both running without interruption. Modern games take more CPU Horsepower that most business applications. So does a gamer have to get one of the business versions in order to use dual processors?
    • Home Premium doesn't support two physical CPUs

      Home Premium will support dual-core CPUs, but not boxes that have two physical CPUs (ie, two separate chips in two separate sockets). If you are building a high-end gaming rig, you'll want Vista Ultimate Edition anyway.
      Ed Bott
    • Re: No Dual Processors for Games!?

      Just get your Xbox and game like Microsoft always wanted you to and shut up.

      Get your Halo 3 and Shadowrun and Gears of War and play them on the hardware designed for the only games YOU'LL ever need and just shut up.

      Buy the hardware you're told to, play the games you're told to, buy and pay leasing and licensing fees on the software you're told to hold but not own, and shut up, shut UP, SHUT UP!