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Windows Vista Product Editions

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Two days before the start of Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2005 in September 2005, I received exclusive insider information about the product editions, or SKUs, which Microsoft intends to create for Windows Vista (previously codenamed Longhorn). While the exact breakdown of the Windows Vista editions had been the subject of much speculation, this list closely matches the editions list I first published on the SuperSite for Windows in 2004. Since then, in February 2005, Microsoft finally revealed what the final product line-up would look like and--no surprise--it's almost identical to what I posted several months earlier. Here's how the Windows Vista product editions break down, according to both the very latest internal Microsoft documentation and what the company's said publicly.

Windows Vista product edition categories

There will be two general categories of Windows Vista editions, which map closely to the two that exist today for XP ("Home," which comprises Starter, Home, and Media Center Editions, and "Pro," which includes Professional, Professional x64, and Tablet PC Editions). In Windows Vista, the two categories are Home and Business.

In the Home category, Microsoft will create four product editions: Windows Vista Starter, Windows Vista Home Basic (and Home Basic N for the European market), Windows Vista Home Premium, and Windows Vista Ultimate (previously known as "Uber" Edition).

In the Business category, there will are two editions: Windows Vista Business (previously known as Professional Standard Edition; along with Business N for the European market), and Windows Vista Enterprise (previously known as Professional Premium Edition). A previous plan to include a third business-oriented edition, dubbed Windows Vista Business, has been dropped.

In all, there are six product editions planned for Windows Vista (or eight, if you count the N Editions as being different). These edition names are now finalized, though the final feature set for each could change in the coming months.

Windows Vista product editions

Here's how the product editions look, along with a preview of Microsoft's marketing message for each version.

Windows Vista Starter

Aimed at beginner computer users in emerging markets who can only afford a low cost PC. As with the XP version, Windows Vista Starter (it was briefly going to be called Windows Starter 2007) is a subset of Vista Home Basic, and will ship in a 32-bit version only (no 64-bit x64 version). Vista Starter will allow only three applications (and/or three windows) to run simultaneously, will provide Internet connectivity but not incoming network communications, and will not provide for logon passwords or Fast User Switching (FUS). Vista Starter is analogous to XP Starter Edition. This version will only be sold in emerging markets.

Windows Vista Starter is lacking a number of unique features found in most of the other Vista product editions. There is no Aero user interface, for example, and no support for Microsoft's new domain-like home networking scheme. Other missing features include DVD Maker, gaming common controller support, and image editing with enhanced touchup.

The marketing message: For beginner computer users in emerging markets who can only afford a low cost PC, Windows Vista Starter provides a more affordable and easy introduction to personal computing because it is lower priced, tailored to the needs of beginner personal computer users, compatible with a wide range of Windows-based applications and devices, and tailored to each market.

Windows Vista Home Basic

A simple version of Windows Vista that is aimed at single PC homes. Windows Vista Home Basic is the baseline version of Windows Vista, and the version that all other product editions will build from. It will include features such as Windows Firewall, Windows Security Center, secure wireless networking, parental controls, anti-spam/anti-virus/anti-spyware functionality, network map, Windows Search, Movie Maker, Photo Library, Windows Media Player, Outlook Express with RSS support, P2P Messenger, and more. Windows Vista Home Basic is roughly analogous to Windows XP Home Edition. This version is aimed at general consumers, Windows 9x/XP Starter Edition upgraders, and price sensitive/first-time buyers. Like Vista Starter, Vista Home Basic will not support the new Aero user interface.

The marketing message: For mainstream Windows customers, Home Basic is where it all begins. Here, Microsoft will be pushing "peace of mind" and "performance," and will promise consumers a faster, more secure and reliable productivity experience. Home Basic is secure by default and easy to keep secure. You can trust Windows with your most important tasks and data and complete everyday tasks faster.

Windows Vista Home Premium

As a true superset of Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Premium will include everything from Home Basic, as well as Media Center and Media Center Extender functionality (including Cable Card support), DVD Maker DVD authoring, Tablet PC functionality, Mobility Center and other mobility and presentation features, auxiliary display support, P2P ad-hoc meeting capabilities, Wi-Fi auto-config and roaming, unified parental controls that work over multiple PCs, backup to network functionality, Internet File Sharing, Offline Folders, PC-to-PC sync, Sync Manager, and support for Microsoft's upcoming Quattro Home Server, a Windows Server 2003 R2-based server product aimed at the home market. Windows Vista Premium is similar to XP Media Center Edition, except that it adds numerous other features and functionality, including Tablet PC support. My guess is that this will be the volume consumer offering in the Windows Vista timeframe (today, XP Pro is the dominant seller). This version is aimed at PC enthusiasts, multiple-PC homes, homes with kids, and notebook users.

The marketing message: Home Premium turns it up a notch. In addition to the baseline functionality offered in Home Basic, this version focuses on such things as integrated entertainment (movies, memories, and more), mobility (media and productivity on the go), and connected living (connect with family, friends, and home). Home Premium supplies whole-home entertainment and personal productivity throughout the home and on the go.

Windows Vista Business

A powerful, reliable and secure OS for businesses of all sizes. Windows Vista Business will include domain join and management functionality, compatibility with non-Microsoft networking protocols (Netware, SNMP, etc.), Remote Desktop, Microsoft Windows Web Server, and Encrypted File System (EFS). Additionally, Vista Business will include Tablet PC functionality. Windows Vista Business is roughly analogous to XP Pro today. This version is aimed at business decision makers and IT managers and generalists.

The marketing message: Vista Business is a powerful, reliable, and secure operating system. It helps PC users be more effective at work and offers improved connectivity and access to information, so that companies can realize better return on their IT investment.

For a look at Windows Vista Business, see my screenshot gallery.

Windows Vista Enterprise

Optimized for the enterprise, this version will be a true superset of Windows Vista Business, available only via volume license to Software Assurance (SA) customers. It will include unique features such as single-instance Virtual PC, the multi-language user interface (MUI), and the Secure Startup/full volume encryption security technologies ("Cornerstone"). There is no analogous XP version for this product. This version is aimed at business decision makers, IT managers and decision makers, and information workers/general business users.

The marketing message: Vista Enterprise provides an advanced application compatibility solution that will be crucial to many large business users, can be deployed to multiple language locales using a single image, and provides Secure Startup functionality for the ultimate in security on the go. It is the client OS that is optimized for the enterprise. Vista Enterprise reduces IT cost and complexity by providing tools that protect company data, reduce the number of required disk images, and ensure the compatibility of legacy applications.

Windows Vista Ultimate

The best operating system ever offered for a personal PC, optimized for the individual. Windows Vista Ultimate is a superset of both Vista Home Premium and Vista Business, so it includes all of the features of both of those product versions, plus adds Game Performance Tweaker with integrated gaming experiences, a Podcast creation utility (under consideration, may be cut from product), and online "Club" services (exclusive access to music, movies, services and preferred customer care) and other "Vista Ultimate Extras" offerings (also under consideration, may be cut from product). Microsoft is still investigating how to position its most impressive Windows release yet, and is looking into offering Vista Ultimate owners such services as extended A1 subscriptions, free music downloads, free movie downloads, Online Spotlight and entertainment software, preferred product support, and custom themes. There is nothing like Vista Ultimate today. This version is aimed at high-end PC users and technology influencers, gamers, digital media enthusiasts, and students.

The marketing message: Vista Ultimate is the "no compromises" version of Windows Vista. It provides the best performance, most secure and complete connection to the office, and is optimized for the individual. Everything you need for work or fun is included. It is the best operating system ever offered for the personal PC.

For a look at Windows Vista Ultimate, see my screenshot galleries.

N Editions

Finally, I should note that Microsoft is planning to offer so-called N Editions of Windows Vista for the European market, in order to meet the requirements of an antitrust ruling there. Windows Vista N Editions--Vista Home Basic N and Vista Business N--will mirror the Vista Home Basic and Vista Business versions, respectively, but will not include Windows Media Player and other media-related functionality.

Features breakdown

Many people are curious about which features will be made available in each product edition. Here's a partial list.

Key to the table:
Str - Windows Vista Starter
Home N - Windows Vista Home N (Europe only)
Home B - Windows Vista Home Basic
Home P - Windows Vista Home Premium
Bus N - Windows Vista Business N (Europe only)
Bus - Windows Vista Business
Ent -Windows Vista Enterprise
Ult - Windows Vista Ultimate

Conceptual diagram of the Windows Vista product editions and how they relate to one another. Note that Small Business Edition will not be offered.

FundamentalsFeatureStrHome NHome BHome PBus NBusEntUltSafeDocs backup and restore No  Yes  Yes  Yes YesYesYesYesBackup (scheduled) No  No  No  Yes YesYesYesYesBackup (network-based) No  No No Yes YesYesYesYesShadow copy client No  No NoNoYesYesYesYesEncrypted File System (EFS) No  No No Yes YesYesYesYesSupports migration from XP No  Yes  Yes  Yes YesYesYesYesProductivityFeatureStrHome NHome BHome PBus NBusEntUltDesktop Window Manager (DWM) No  Yes  Yes  Yes YesYesYesYesAero glass, animations, visual effects No  No No Yes YesYesYesYesProductivity features (rolodex, tab previews, task bar previews) No  No No Yes YesYesYesYesUnlimited screen resolution supportNo 


Yes Yes  Yes YesYesYesYesFast User Switching (FUS) No  Yes  Yes  Yes YesYesYesYesCommunicationsFeatureStrHome NHome BHome PBus NBusEntUltRDP/Remote Desktop No  No NoNoYesYesYesYesP2P Meeting Place (ad-hoc meetings, people discovery, presentation broadcast) No NoNoNoYesYesYesYesWindows Web Server (optional) No  No NoNoYesYesYesYesWindows Fax client No NoNoNoYes (opt)Yes (opt)Yes (opt)Yes (opt)Digital Media & EntertainmentFeatureStrHome NHome BHome PBus NBusEntUltDVD Video Authoring No  No NoYesNoNoNoYesDirect Media Mode No YesYesYesYesYesYesYesMedia Center (including Extender and games) No  No NoYesNoNoNoYesNumber of remote Media Center sessions supportedn/an/an/a5n/an/an/a5Movie Maker HD PublishingNo No NoYesNoNoNoYesAdvanced Photography features No  No NoYesYes (opt)Yes (opt)Yes (opt)Yes (opt)Premium Games (3D Chess, Shanghai Solitaire) No  No NoYes (Opt)Yes (Opt)Yes (Opt)Yes (Opt)Yes (Opt)Windows Media Player 11 and related components Yes  No YesYesNoYesYesYesNetworkingFeatureStrHome NHome BHome PBus NBusEntUltNumber of supported network connections0551010101010Domain join support No  No NoNo
onlyYesYesYesYes1:1 Network projection No  No NoYesYesYesYesYesSNMP supportYesYesYesYesYes (Opt)Yes (Opt)Yes (Opt)Yes (Opt)Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) No YesYesYesYes (Opt)YesYes (Opt)YesMobilityFeatureStrHome NHome BHome PBus NBusEntUltPC-to-PC Sync No  No NoYesYesYesYesYesMobility Center No  No NoYesYesYesYesYesTablet PC functionality No  No NoYes (Opt)Yes (Opt)Yes (Opt)Yes (Opt)Yes (Opt)Auxiliary Display support No  No NoYesYesYesYesYesOffline folders with client-side caching No  No NoNoYesYesYesYesPC managementFeatureStrHome NHome BHome PBus NBusEntUltSubsystem for UNIX-based Applications (SUA) No  No NoNoNoNoYes (Opt)Yes (Opt)Secure Startup (Cornerstone) No  No NoNoNoNoYesYes (Opt)Single Session Virtual PC No  No NoNoNoNoYes (Opt)Yes (Opt)Multi-Language User Interface (MUI) No  No NoNoNoNoYesYes (Opt)

Processor and memory support

What about processor and memory support? Most Windows Vista product editions will be available in both 32-bit and 64-bit (x64) versions. Here's how the various versions support each processor type, and how much RAM they allow.

Processor and memory supportFeatureStrHome NHome BHome PBus NBusEntUltSupports 32-bit processors (x86) Yes Yes Yes  Yes YesYesYesYesAmount of RAM supported on 32-bit systems 256 MB 8 GB8 GB16 GBMax
physicalSupports 64-bit processors (x64) No  Yes Yes Yes YesYesYesYesAmount of RAM supported on x64 systemsn/a8 GB8 GB16 GB128 GB+128 GB+128 GB+128 GB+Number of physical CPUs supported11112222

There's been some confusion about the difference between multiple processors and multiple processor cores (for example, both Intel and AMD are currently selling dual-core CPUs, and quad-core chips are on the way). While all of the Vista product editions support only one or two physical processors, none are limited to the number of processor cores they will support.

Selling Windows Vista

According to internal Microsoft documentation, the goal of the product edition differentiations in Windows Vista is to provide "clear value proposition" to all customer segments and take XP-era innovations, such as the Media Center and Tablet PC functionality, to the mainstream. Windows Vista is also being positioned as a transitionary product for the x64 platform: Almost all Windows Vista editions will be offered in both x86 (32-bit) and x64 (64-bit) versions, and these versions will ship in the same box. So, for example, when you purchase Vista Home Premium, the version you get will depend on which type of PC you have: If it's an x64-based PC, the x64 version will be installed. Microsoft expects to transition its client product lines completely to x64 after the release of Windows Vista.

What's scary here, of course, is how widely Microsoft is expanding the Windows product line. As with its Office family of products (see my Office 2007 FAQ for details), Microsoft is stretching things a bit with this wide number of product editions, and this will lead to consumer and business confusion, which is never a good thing. When the company revealed that they were componentizing Windows Vista in order to make it easier for the company and its PC maker partners to create various product editions on the fly (read a discussion about this topic in my showcase, The Road to Windows Longhorn 2003), few people expected them to take advantage of the situation like this. The sheer number of Windows Vista versions is going to cause massive consumer confusion, and some of these versions will likely be orphaned after they prove to be targeting niche markets. That will lead to further migration confusion when the time to upgrade comes.

In any event, there's a lot of information to digest here, but I know that SuperSite readers have been waiting for this for ... well, years. Enjoy!

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