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Pre-PDC Exclusive: Windows Vista Product Editions Revealed

Two days before the start of Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2005, I received exclusive insider information about the product editions that Microsoft intends to create for Windows Vista (code-named Longhorn). Although the exact breakdown of the Vista editions has been the subject of much speculation, the list closely matches the editions list I first published on the SuperSite for Windows last year. 
Microsoft plans two general Vista edition categories, which map closely to the two that exist today for Windows XP (XP Home Edition, which includes XP Starter, Home, and Media Center Editions, and XP Professional Edition, which includes XP Pro, Pro x64, and Tablet PC editions). Vista will feature two categories: Home and Business. In the Home category, Microsoft will create four product editions: Vista Starter Edition, Vista Home Basic Edition, Vista Home Premium Edition, and Vista Ultimate Edition (previously known as the "Uber" Edition). The Business category will feature three editions: Vista Small Business Edition, Vista Professional Edition, and Vista Enterprise Edition.
Note that these product names are placeholders; they could change before the final products are released. However, this breakdown of editions is current as of this week and is unlikely to change.
Vista Starter will be designed for beginning computer users in emerging markets who can afford only a low-cost PC. As with the XP version, Vista Starter will be a subset of Vista Home and will ship in a 32-bit version only. The product will let only three applications (or windows) run simultaneously, will provide Internet connectivity but not incoming network communications, and won't provide for logon passwords or Fast User Switching. Vista Starter is analogous to XP Starter and will be sold only in emerging markets.
Vista Home Basic, a simple product designed for single-PC homes, will be the baseline version on which all other Vista editions will build. It will include features such as Windows Firewall; Windows Security Center; secure wireless networking; parental controls; antispam, antivirus, and antispyware functionality; network mapping; Windows search functionality; the Aero UI; Windows Movie Maker; a photo library; Windows Media Player (WMP); Microsoft Office Outlook Express with Really Simple Syndication (RSS) support; P2P Messenger; and more. Roughly analogous to XP Home, Vista Home Basic will be designed for general consumers, XP and Windows 9x Starter Edition upgraders, and price-sensitive or first-time buyers.
Vista Home Premium will provide entertainment and personal productivity throughout the home and on the go. As a true superset of Vista Home Basic, Vista Home Premium will include everything from Vista Home Basic, as well as Media Center and Media Center Extender functionality (including cable card support), DVD video authoring and HDTV support, DVD-ripping support (yes, you read that right), Tablet PC functionality, Microsoft Mobility Center and other mobility and presentation features, auxiliary display support, peer-to-peer (P2P) ad hoc meeting capabilities, Wi-Fi autoconfiguration and roaming, unified parental controls that work on multiple PCs, backup-to-network functionality, Internet File Sharing, offline folders, PC-to-PC synchronization, Sync Manager, and support for Quattro (a new Longhorn Server version). Vista Premium is similar to XP Media Center Edition (XP MCE) but adds several other features and functionality, including Tablet PC support. My guess is that it will be the Vista volume consumer offering (today, XP Pro is the dominant seller). This version is designed for PC enthusiasts, multiple-PC homes, homes with kids, and notebook users.
Vista Pro, a powerful, reliable, and secure OS for businesses of all sizes, will include domain-join and management functionality, compatibility with non-Microsoft networking protocols (e.g., Novell NetWare, SNMP), Remote Desktop, Microsoft IIS, and Encrypting File System (EFS). In addition, Vista Pro Standard will include Tablet PC functionality. Vista Pro is roughly analogous to today's XP Pro. This version is designed for business decision makers and IT managers and generalists.
Vista Small Business, which will be designed for small businesses that don't have IT staff, will be a superset of Vista Pro Standard and will include unique features such as backup and Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) support, server-join networking, and PC fax and scanning utilities. Microsoft might include other features, including a Small Business Edition guided tour, prepaid access to the Windows Live! or Microsoft Office Live! subscription services, Multi-PC Health (a managed version of Microsoft OneCare Live), and membership in the Microsoft Small Business Club online service. Microsoft will offer a step-up program for Small Business Edition that will let customers upgrade to Vista Enterprise or Vista Ultimate at a reduced cost. This SKU is new to Vista; no XP Small Business Edition exists. This version is designed for small-business owners and managers.
Vista Enterprise will be optimized for the enterprise and will be a true superset of Vista Pro. It will also include unique features such as Virtual PC, the Multilanguage User Interface (MUI), and the Secure Startup-Full Volume Encryption security technologies (code-named Cornerstone). No analogous XP version exists for this product, which is designed for business decision makers, IT managers and decision makers, information workers, and general business users.
Vista Ultimate promises to be the best OS ever offered for the personal PC and will be optimized for the individual. Vista Ultimate is a superset of both Vista Home Premium and Vista Pro; it includes all the features of both product versions and adds a Game Performance Tweaker with integrated gaming experiences, a Podcast-creation utility (which is under consideration and might be cut from the product), online club services (i.e., exclusive access to music, movies, services, and preferred customer care), and other offerings that are currently under consideration. Microsoft is still investigating how to position its most impressive Windows release yet and might offer Ultimate Edition owners such services as extended A1 subscriptions, free music downloads, free movie downloads, Online Spotlight and entertainment software, preferred product support, and custom themes. Nothing like Vista Ultimate exists today. This version will be designed for high-end PC users and technology influencers, gamers, digital media enthusiasts, and students.
According to internal Microsoft documentation, the goal of the Vista product edition differentiations is to provide a "clear value proposition" to all customer segments and to take XP-era innovations, such as the Media Center and Tablet PC functionality, to the mainstream. The company is also positioning Vista as a transitionary product for the x64 platform: Almost all Vista editions will be offered in both x86 (32-bit) and x64 (64-bit) versions. Post-Vista, Microsoft expects to transition almost completely to x64 versions.
I'll expand on this information in a showcase for the SuperSite for Windows. Check the site for the latest news about the Vista releases, including a comparison table of Vista and XP products.

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