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Guide to Windows Vista Editions

Microsoft has released a confusing array of Vista editions, no less than six of them, and in the opinion of kadaitcha.cx, only one edition is worth buying. Read about the differences and limitations before you purchase:

Windows Vista Ultimate

"The most complete edition of Windows Vista—with the power, security, and mobility features that you need for work, and all of the entertainment features that you want for fun" Source: Microsoft

With the exception of some special features available only in the Enterprise edition, which relate to creating disk images for mass-deployment, Vista Ultimate includes all the features missing from other editions of Vista:
  • Media Centre
  • Movie Maker and DVD Maker
  • Advanced networking, including
    • Joining a domain
    • Initiating Remote Desktop Connections
  • System management tools
  • Scheduled backups and disk imaging
  • Advanced data protection (BitLocker)
  • "Extras", including full version games
  • Advanced graphics (Aero)
  • Scan and Fax support
If you are planning to buy Windows Vista then Vista Ultimate is the only edition that properly caters to the broader needs of today's sophisticated users, however the price is quite steep at $US399 RRP for the full version of Vista Ultimate, and $US259 RRP for an upgrade.

Windows Vista Home Premium

"Windows Vista Home Premium delivers the productivity and entertainment that you need from your PC at home or on the go. It includes Windows Media Center, which helps you more easily enjoy your digital photos, TV, movies, and music. Plus, you'll have the peace of mind of knowing that your PC has a whole new level of security and reliability. All together, Windows Vista Home Premium redefines enjoyment in home computing." Source: Microsoft

The Good News About Windows Vista Home Premium

Home Premium supports Vista's new Aero graphics engine. This means you will be able to see and use Vista's special effects, provided that you have an Aero-capable video card:
Home Premium also includes:
  • Windows Media Centre
  • Windows Movie Maker
  • Windows DVD Maker

The Bad News About Windows Vista Home Premium

Backup features are included in Home Premium, but are stripped-down, just as they are in Home Basic. Home Premium supports scheduled backups but not the ability to create disk images. Other cut-down features include Remote Desktop sessions, which, like Home Basic, Home Premium can receive but not initiate, and again like Home Basic, Home Premium cannot "protect your data against loss or theft" because it does not support Windows BitLocker™ Drive Encryption.
Home Premium includes a backup to network feature but you cannot backup network drives. Furthermore the license conditions (EULA) for Home Premium prohibit you from installing a virtual machine on your operating system. See the comments lower down about virtual machine technology on Vista Enterprise if you want to understand why Microsoft have imposed such a license condition.
Home Premium does not support joining a domain, and includes no built-in functionality for fax or scan.

Windows Vista Home Basic

"If you only want to use your PC for tasks like browsing the Internet, using e-mail, or viewing photos, then Windows Vista Home Basic may be the right edition for you. While it won't provide as many benefits as Windows Vista Home Premium, it will help you use your PC more easily and more safely than you could with Windows XP." Source: Microsoft

The Good News About Windows Vista Home Basic

[This space is intentionally blank]

The Bad News About Windows Vista Home Basic

Home Basic does not support Vista's new Aero graphics engine, which means you will not get any of Vista's wow-factor effects such as the glass-like interface with window elements that can be seen through, and deep, rich shadows under windows. Both Windows Flip 3D navigation and Live taskbar thumbnails are missing. The omission of Vista's exceptional graphics capabilities from Home Basic may not seem like much, but in the opinion of kadaitcha.cx it is the quality of Vista's graphics that set Vista apart. In fact, all the features that Microsoft claim make Vista "an environment with an additional level of visual sophistication, one that is even more responsive and manageable, providing a further level of clarity and confidence to Windows users" are completely missing from Vista Home Basic.

Home Basic does not include Windows Media Centre. You will not be enjoying "all your favourite digital entertainment—including live and recorded TV, movies, music, and pictures—in one place with the easy-to-use Windows Media Centre menu system and remote control", including "enhancements for expanded support of digital and high-definition cable TV, an improved menu system, and the ability to create a consumer-electronics-quality living-room experience, as well as new options for multi-room access to your entertainment through Media Centre Extenders, including Xbox 360."
Windows Movie Maker and DVD Maker are missing from Home Basic, despite DVD-RW drives being standard on most equipment today, and despite the spread of digital cameras and video-capable mobile telephones.
Microsoft actually claim, by way of omission, that Home Basic is not the best choice for laptops, link here. However it appears the only differences between a version that is "suitable" for laptops and Home Basic is the list of features kadaitcha.cx has already listed as missing from Home Basic, plus a read-only version of Windows Meeting Space, and a severely limited Mobility Centre, which is used to bring supposedly common laptop functions together into one place. The Mobility Centre is missing a small tool that is used to modify system settings when running a PowerPoint presentation. Wi-Fi auto-configuration and roaming are also missing, but most of these "missing" features are easily performed using other applets in the Control Panel anyway, so why bother?
It is clear that laptop manufacturers do not share Microsoft's opinion of its own products; a quick browse of any laptop dealer will reveal a plethora of equipment supporting the mightily cut down Windows Vista Home Basic, despite Microsoft not believing that Home Basic is good enough for laptops.
As with Home Premium, backup features are included in Home Basic, but are stripped-down. Home Basic's backup supports neither scheduled backups nor disk images. Other crippled features include Remote Desktop; Home Basic can receive but not initiate Remote Desktop sessions, nor can Home Basic "protect your data against loss or theft" because it does not support Windows BitLocker™ Drive Encryption.
In summary, elegant Windows Aero with glass-like menus and toolbars, Windows Flip 3D, and Live taskbar thumbnails are missing. The document sharing and collaboration features of Windows Meeting Space are missing. There is no ability to extend Vista to secondary displays and other devices with Windows SideShow. Windows Media Centre is missing. Protection against hardware failure is not available because Windows Complete PC Backup and Restore is missing. Windows Fax and Scan is missing. No scheduled backups and no disk imaging. No initiation of Remote Desktop Connections. No protection against theft of data because BitLocker™ Drive Encryption is missing. You can't easily make DVDs because Windows DVD Maker is not included. You will have less fun on your PC because premium games like Chess Titans, Mah-jong Titans, and Inkball are missing, and there is no easy way to create high definition movies with Windows Movie Maker because Windows Movie Maker is not included...

Windows Vista Business

"...for the growing business that always seems to be on the go, the mobile computing enhancements make it easier to stay connected to the rhythm of your business, both in and out of the office... Be future-ready and lay the IT foundation that your business needs for today and tomorrow." Source: Microsoft

The Good News About Windows Vista Business

The Business edition supports Vista's new Aero graphics engine. This means you will be able to see and use Vista's special effects, provided that you have an Aero-capable video card.
Unlike Home Basic and Home Premium, Vista Business includes Windows Complete PC Backup and Restore, which can create disk images.
Windows Fax and Scan is included.
Remote Desktop Connection can initiate RDC sessions.

The Bad News About Windows Vista Business

The most glaring omissions from Vista Business would have to be Windows Media Centre, Windows Movie Maker and Windows DVD Maker. No tools are provided that will assist business users in creating, editing and publishing important business presentations for clients. So much for "the rhythm of your business" if "the rhythm of your business" includes creating and presenting powerful multimedia presentations to clients.
Vista Business does not support the Multilanguage User Interface, or MUI. Microsoft are withholding MUI support from all editions of Vista except Enterprise and Ultimate. The decision to omit these products will create problems for businesses that require support for other languages, not only because the cost of Vista Ultimate is significant, but because many companies do not qualify for what Microsoft recognises as an "enterprise", which is, apparently, "large global organizations and those with highly complex IT infrastructures".

So much for being "future-ready and lay[ing] the IT foundation that your business needs for today and tomorrow."
Vista Business does not support the Subsystem for UNIX-based Applications (SUA), nor Secure Startup and BitLocker™ Drive Encryption (hardware-based security features). The logic that drove Microsoft's decision to exclude BitLocker™ Drive Encryption from Vista Business is unfathomable. If anyone needs data protection it's got to be businesses, of all sizes.

In fact, Microsoft can't seem to figure that blindingly salient point out at all, yet they explicitly state, "...the BitLocker Drive Encryption feature was originally designed for businesses"

Windows Vista Enterprise

"Windows Vista Enterprise is the premium business edition of Windows Vista. It helps global organizations and businesses with complex IT infrastructures lower costs, reduce risk, and stay connected." Source: Microsoft

The Good News About Windows Vista Enterprise

The Enterprise edition supports the Multilanguage User Interface, or MUI.
BitLocker™ Drive Encryption is included.

The Bad News About Windows Vista Enterprise

Microsoft are touting virtualisation technology as a benefit of deploying Vista Enterprise, and they tout this benefit without saying that Microsoft's virtualisation technology is free to anyone who cares to download it.

The inclusion of virtualisation technology in the Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Vista, along with the fact that the technology is freely available, accounts for the EULA prohibition of using such technology on other editions of Vista.
Vista Enterprise does not include Windows Media Centre, neither Windows Movie Maker nor Windows DVD Maker. No tools are provided for creating, editing and publishing important multimedia business presentations to enterprise clients. It appears that enterprises  will have to keep their business presentations in the dark ages by using PowerPoint.

Windows Vista Starter

Vista Starter does not include anything useful and is not available in countries where people earn more than $2 a day, which includes "the United States, Canada, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, or other high income markets as defined by the World Bank."

Odd that New Zealand made the high income list.
Vista Starter is even more crippled than Vista Home Basic. Apart from all the features missing in Vista Home Basic, the Starter edition does not support screen resolutions over 1024x768, nor does it support more than 256MB of RAM, or Internet Connection Sharing.

Upgrade Matrix

Do not purchase any upgrade version of Vista if you have Windows 95, 98, 98SE, or Millennium. Microsoft no longer support upgrades from these products. To use a Vista upgrade you must have Windows 2000 or later.

The Vista Upgrade Matrix contains 24 elements. Of the 24 "upgrade" paths, only 10 options actually allow an in-place upgrade; all other "upgrades" require a clean install.  

 Home BasicHome PremiumBusinessUltimate
XP Pro 64-bit
Windows 2000
XP Tablet PC
XP Pro 32-bit
XP MCE
XP HE

Legend 
Requires a clean install
In-place upgrade supported

Why is it so?

If you are familiar with versions of Windows XP then you will see straight away that the upgrade points have been doctored to prevent you from retaining nice features from your earlier OS, such as Windows Media Centre. As an example, Vista Home Basic does not include Windows Media Centre, Windows Movie Maker or Windows DVD Maker. The matrix really means that if your current OS has a better or richer feature set than your new version of Vista then you cannot do an in-place upgrade because doing so would allow you to retain the better features from the older OS. If you compare that information to the chart above, you will clearly see that, in every case, where an upgrade would result in features like Media Centre being retained, a clean install is required.

Note:

Some sources on the Internet are claiming that Vista Home Premium requires 1GB of RAM. The claim is false. Vista Home Premium has a minimum requirement of 512MB of RAM, however Microsoft recommend 1GB.