Which Windows 7 Edition Should My Business Use?

Windows 7 will come in two main editions that should satisfy most users, but what about all the other editions?

Microsoft recently announced the editions, or SKUs, of Windows 7. In some ways, the new lineup is much simpler than Windows Vista. Only two of Windows 7's editions, Home Premium and Professional, will be widely available and advertised, and each edition encompasses all the features of the edition below it.

Businesses have varying needs, however, so here's my take on what IT departments should keep in mind about each of the announced editions of Windows 7:

  • Starter: Starter edition will only be available to OEMs, so you probably won't have to deal with it much in an IT environment. If you're asked about adding Starter edition computers to your company, you should probably recommend against it. Like Home editions, Starter Edition can't connect to domains and has generally limited networking abilities. On top of that, its three-application limit is likely to cause problems in a business environment.

  • Home Basic and Home Premium: Home Basic is only going to be available in emerging markets, so there's a good chance you'll never encounter it at all. Home Premium will be the standard for home computers, however, and with more and more companies letting employees work at home, there's a chance you'll have to deal with it at some point. Like the home editions of Vista and Windows XP, Windows 7 Home Premium won't be able to join a domain and won't support Group Policy controls.

  • Professional: Unlike the Business edition of Vista, Windows 7 Professional will include all the features of Home Premium, including Media Center. Professional has the features you'd expect in a business OS, but remember that it lacks some features you might want in your office, like Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption, AppLocker, and BranchCache. Most of these are new in Windows 7 and all of them came after XP, so if you're expecting new features when you upgrade to Windows 7, you might be disappointed with just Professional edition.

    With the near-constant stories about lost USB drives and laptops compromising important data, BitLocker's absence from Professional should be an especially strong consideration when you're looking at Windows 7 editions. Remember that if you use BitLocker To Go to encrypt a USB drive, you can only read that drive on a computer that also has BitLocker To Go.

  • Update: You can, in fact, read a BitLocker To Go encrypted drive on other computers, not just Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate. See Paul Thurrott's article on BitLocker To Go.

  • Enterprise and Ultimate: Apparently these two editions will be exactly the same feature-wise, with the only difference between them being how you get them; Enterprise is only available to Microsoft Software Assurance Customers and Ultimate will be available retail. There's no downside to using these editions compared to the others other than cost.

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