The Many Faces of Windows

It has been a poorly kept secret that Microsoft has been intending to stratify its Windows offerings, in order to best reach a price point and feature set that fits each market. We already saw a portion of this with the initial launch of Windows XP, which was split into two versions: XP Home for home computer use, and XP Professional for business/office/workstation use. Since then, Microsoft has further augmented that lineup with XP Starter Edition for emerging markets, an HTPC-oriented version with XP Media Center Edition, and of course their enterprise server software Windows Server 2003.

With Vista, Microsoft will continue this trend and will be designing 6 separate versions of Vista: Starter, Business, Enterprise, Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate. As Starter will only be available in select countries, most users will have a choice among the other 5 versions of Vista, which are in turn broken into two categories based on the target user audience and features.

Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate are targeted at home users, separated by cost and features. While Microsoft already has a version of Windows for emerging markets, Home Basic, the 2nd most stripped down version of Vista, will also include a number of handicaps like: not supporting the eye-candy or productivity features of the new Aero interface, limited communication abilities, and an interesting 8GB/1 physical processor cap that may become an issue in a couple of years. While Microsoft has compared this to XP Home and targeted it towards households with only one computer, under their current proposal it'll likely end up too limiting for many users, but it will also be the cheapest version of Windows possible.

Home Premium in turn will be the first consumer version of Windows to come loaded with a more realistically complete feature set, comparable to XP Media Center edition. Home Premium will include full Aero interface functionality, the Media Center application, video authoring applications, an increased RAM cap of 16GB, and better computer networking abilities that will only lack certain business features. It will also still only support a single physical processor (i.e. one socket), though with quad core chips launching next year it's questionable how many people will really need more than that.

Last and not least rounding out the consumer side of Windows will be the nebulous Windows Vista Ultimate, which Microsoft has pitched as the version of Windows that includes everything from both the consumer and business categories. At this point Microsoft hasn't made it clear what is really going to separate Ultimate from some of the other versions of Vista, so it's likely there will be some changes before it ships. So far on top of including all the Vista features from both sides (including the business side's processor and memory support), Ultimate will include the System Assessment Tool, which Microsoft is pitching as a way to predict computer performance for use in adjusting game settings.

Moving over to the business side, Vista Business and Enterprise will be the successors to XP Professional. Business is almost exactly like XP Professional as we know it now, coming with most of Vista's features from both the business and consumer sides. As the only consumer features lacking at this point are the video authority and Media Center applications, it seems likely that Business will end up being the OS of choice for many computer enthusiasts. This is something Microsoft wants to avoid, as they want enthusiasts to use the more feature packed (and expensive) Ultimate edition, so it's not impossible that the feature set may change before Vista launches.

Last on the business side is Enterprise edition, which is only intended for large businesses, and as the successor to XP Professional corporate edition it will only be available to volume license key holders, putting it out of the hands of individuals (who will need to purchase Ultimate edition to get Enterprise's features). New to Enterprise will be a built-in version of VirtualPC and an enhanced encryption ability that will be able to encrypt the entire OS instead of only user folders.

Still with us? On top of the 6 versions of Vista, Microsoft is also taking the 64-bit push very seriously with Vista, as enthusiasts are only a year or so away from reaching the 4GB RAM limit of IA-32. As a result, all versions of Vista except for Starter will also come in a 64-bit version signified by the x64 moniker (versus x86 for the 32-bit version), with both versions planned to be included with each copy of Windows at this time. Our beta version of Vista came on two separate DVDs, one for x86 and one for x64, but we're not sure at this point if Microsoft is going to package Vista in a dual-layer DVD with an installer that can pick the right version, or if it will continue to come on separate discs. It's also worth noting that Vista will choose which version of itself to install based on the product key used, as now all versions (for x64 and x86) will use the same installation media, which will be a relief for doing reinstalls. Vista will also be upgradeable; Microsoft is planning on allowing users to purchase updates over the internet to allow them to upgrade from Home Basic to Home Premium, for example. Since there's now a common media, users will only need to put the installation disc back into let the unlocked features install.

Finally, Microsoft will still be shipping stripped down versions of Windows for the European market that lack the Windows Media Player, with versions of both Business and Home Basic being available. Since these will also apparently come in x86 and x64 versions, this brings the total number of unique versions of Vista up to 15. At present, there is no successor to Windows Server 2003, but that will probably become available in time.

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  • aeschbi99 - Wednesday, July 05, 2006 - link

    Hi

    I just loved your article about Vista....especially the comparison to TIGER...I am a big MAC fan! But what MS did with Flip3D it appears to me is a copy of SUN's "Looking Glass" - which was out I believe even in 2003.

    Redmond --- start your copy machine.... the real invention starts somewhere else....

    see link http://java.sun.com/developer/technicalArticles/J2...">http://java.sun.com/developer/technical...s/J2SE/D...
    Reply
  • absynthe49 - Saturday, July 01, 2006 - link

    I really enjoy anandtech but I didn't really like the style of this article. When I read it.. I was quite sad that vista was looking so bad at this stage... particularly the game performance.

    But then I remembered that I read in a few places that Vista would not support native DirectX 9. That it would be in a way.. emulated. So there was an expected decrease in numbers. My understanding was that new powerful hardware would be coming out and that it would run the older games fast enough to overcome the loss from emulation.

    The article almost seemed to say that gaming looks doomed in a way.

    So basically... the drivers are not tweaked yet... this is still a beta... there may still be a debugging layer running... and I think vista runs directx 9 through an emulation layer.

    So unless this is false and it actually runs directx 9 natively... is it really a surprize at all that directx 9 games run from 20 to 30 frames per second slower? This did not seem to be addressed at all in the article and I thought it was kind of premature worry so much.
    Reply
  • NullSubroutine - Monday, June 19, 2006 - link

    they can say every hardware/software limitation they want. i dont buy that they 'cant' make dx10 for xp and they 'cant' have full opengl support. just too convienent for microsoft. Reply
  • mongo lloyd - Sunday, June 18, 2006 - link

    Although Microsoft may not consider itself to be in direct competition with Apple, this is the match-up most people have been waiting for. Only people who give a shit about OSX, which is far from "most people". Reply
  • drewintheav - Sunday, June 18, 2006 - link

    I thought the staged install method was supposed to be so fast?
    It took way longer to install than it does for me to install XP.
    The Vista Media Center is not useable at this point...
    The video stutters, the audio drops out, and it crashes all the time.
    I had always heard Mac fanatics saying how much better OSX was than XP
    I didn't really believe it could be "so much" better
    I tried out OSX after I installed Vista.
    And now it is very obvious to me where Microsoft has gotten most of its new UI ideas.
    At this point I would say that Microsoft's has executed them very poorly
    which is a little disappointing.
    It is disappointing to me that even if everything worked perfectly in Vista
    it would still lag behind OSX on a number of points
    In fact if Apple sold OSX for Intel as a retail product
    and added a Media Center application
    I would switch to MAC and just run windows Windows apps with an emulator or a VM
    and dual boot XP for games.
    Microsoft really has a lot of work to do and I hope they get it together...

    OSX is way more innovative than Vista at this point...
    Reply
  • AndrewChang - Wednesday, June 21, 2006 - link

    Well, after months of deliberation, it looks like my next personal computing platform will be a merom/leopard based mac book pro. I don't expect to be using a vista based pc until at least the first or second service pack. A fully intergrated bookcamp/virtualization in this next OSX release should take care of my legacy applications (games on xp). Thanks Anandtech, w/o your Macintosh articles I would have never considered all the wonderful options available to me. It'll be fun learing how to use a new OS, especially one that is already superior what us PC users have to look forward to. Reply
  • Pirks - Monday, June 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    In fact if Apple sold OSX for Intel as a retail product

    There's no point - since Dell with the same configuration as iMac and with the same set of basic apps (like DVD burning/mastering etc) costs the same as iMac - why would you buy Dell in the first place? To me it seems that if you spend $1500 on a Dell plus retail Mac OS X instead of iMac - you'll get lower quality product.
    Hence no retail Mac OS X - nobody is interested because iMacs are priced on par with comparable Dells.
    quote:

    and added a Media Center application

    There is Front Row - check out decent Mac sites, read reviews - you'll be surprised how much you missed, hehe ;-)
    Reply
  • nullpointerus - Monday, June 19, 2006 - link

    Not everyone who wants to run Mac OS X wants to purchase a prebuilt computer for it. You should know that if you're posting here because this site is mostly made up of enthusiasts.

    Mac OS X w/ Front Row isn't comparable to Windows MCE. Show me the integrated program guide and automatic recording capabilities. You may as well compare Paint to Gimp or Photoshop.
    Reply
  • Pirks - Monday, June 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Not everyone who wants to run Mac OS X wants to purchase a prebuilt computer for it. You should know that if you're posting here because this site is mostly made up of enthusiasts.
    Same can be said about the post of the guy above asking for the OS X retail version. If I should know this site is for enthusiasts - THEN HE SHOULD KNOW what OS X is and why it is so successful and generates lots of buzz in IT press - pecisely because it DOES NOT have a retail version. Hence asking OS X to give up it's number one advantage - smooth integration with hardware because hardware is NOT open - is not much smarter than my post above.
    quote:

    Mac OS X w/ Front Row isn't comparable to Windows MCE
    Depends on what the user wants. I suppose some users are happy with limited functionality of Paint and don't need/don't want Photoshop.
    Reply
  • nullpointerus - Saturday, June 17, 2006 - link

    "We also tested the boot times for a clean install of each operating system, using a stopwatch to see how long it took for the OS to boot to the point where it presented a usable login screen."

    Um...you must have something seriously wrong with your system. I'm using a lowly Athlon64 3000+ Winchester and 2GB PC3200 RAM. I did a clean install of the x64 version and timed it with my digital watch; it took ~50 seconds to get to the desktop, not the login screen. I had to switch to the 32-bit version because of driver support, and I can tell you it doesn't take 48 seconds to get to the login screen.

    Now, if you rummage around in the control panel's performance applet, you can look at services and drivers which are slowing the boot process down; USB audio and nVidia's drivers affected my system, and even so it starts nearly 30 seconds faster than your clean x64 system. Maybe there's something on your PC that's causing problems?

    Also, something on my second boot will chew up large amounts of CPU time, making the login screen unresponsive. On subsequent boots this problem disappeared, and I was able to enter my password immediately and login fairly quickly. I have drivers for my Linksys WMP54GX and Creative Audigy installed now, too, so my PC should be worse than your clean system.

    Maybe you could check these things out and retest?
    Reply

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