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March 07, 2006

The Six Flavors Of Windows Vista

Microsoft plans to release a full six-pack of Vista versions, one for every taste. Which Vista will be right for you?

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On February 26, 2006, Microsoft . The software giant said that it currently plans to offer six different versions of Windows Vista when the new operating system ships late this year. A seventh version for the European Union, which would lack Windows Media Player, is a possibility (Microsoft didn't address that point in its PR release), and don't be surprised if there are various other flavors developed for other international markets.

Pricing has not been announced yet, but you can bet some of these versions of Vista will be relatively inexpensive. Why? Because a couple of them are heavily stripped down.

To begin with, there will be three consumer versions and two business versions of Windows Vista. (I'll come back to the sixth version, Windows Vista Starter.) None of the new Windows (stockkeeping units) directly equates to Windows XP Pro, Windows XP Home, Windows XP for Tablet PC, Windows XP Media Center, or Windows XP 64-bit Edition; however, these XP editions are covered in the new version of Windows. Microsoft has decided to wrap versions around core business and consumer functionalities, expanding each grouping to include more features.

Beginning With The Basics
The bottom rung of the ladder is occupied by Windows Vista Starter, which has the least number of features. Quoting the press release directly:

"Microsoft ... will offer Windows Vista Starter in emerging markets. Windows Vista Starter is designed to empower families and entry-level PC users in these markets to experience the world of social and educational benefits that personal computer technology and the Internet makes possible. A 32-bit operating system designed specifically for lower-cost computers, Windows Vista Starter enables popular beginner PC activities and provides an easy-to-use and more affordable entry point to the Windows Vista family of products."

The versions that follow are divided between Business and Consumer flavors:

  • Windows Vista Business offers full support for Vista's high-end Aero graphics, which includes more finely detailed graphical elements, as well as transparency, reflections, and better 3D rendering. The Business version will also have integrated desktop search features. And it will include Windows Vista Tablet PC functionalities for computers that support them.

  • The up-level business version, Windows Vista Enterprise, will be sold only via Microsoft's enterprise licensing program. It includes full hard-drive encryption, expanded application compatibility, and a Unix emulation module for running Unix applications.

  • The consumer lineup starts with Windows Vista Home Basic. Think of this version of Vista as being about half a notch below Windows XP Home Edition. Vista Basic will lack integrated desktop search features and will support only the base level Vista graphics. (For more on the tiered graphics support in Windows Vista, see , under the subhead "Setting Expectations.")

  • Windows Vista Home Premium is a big jump up from Vista Basic. In addition to the integrated desktop search functionality and support for Aero graphics, Vista Home Premium adds both Media Center and Tablet PC support. It also provides integrated DVD burning, Windows Media Player 11 recording and sharing, and high-def support in Windows Movie Maker.

  • Finally, Windows Vista Ultimate, which Microsoft describes as a consumer version (probably because businesses will be loath to pay for it), is the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink edition. It merges all the features and functionalities of the other Vista client versions.
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