Microsoft Tells What's Inside Six Windows Vista SKUs

Microsoft talks about what features will be packaged in each of the half-dozen SKUs. (Courtesy: TechWeb)

February 28, 2006

3 Min Read
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As Microsoft Monday officially announced that Windows Vista would come in six flavors later this year, it also laid out what features will be packaged in each of the half-dozen SKUs.

Windows Vista Business will, said Microsoft, serve as the basic business OS, suitable for both small businesses and larger organizations. Although a small business-centric Vista was rumored five months ago, Microsoft has obviously dumped the idea. Among the features that distinguish Vista Business from the bottom line consumer-centric SKU is the integration of Windows Tablet PC technology. Unlike Windows XP, there will not be a separate Tablet edition of Vista.

Windows Vista Enterprise adds hardware-based encryption and other tools to the Vista Business foundation. Windows BitLocker drive encryption locks up data, while Virtual PC Express -- a "lite" version of Microsoft's virtualization technology -- will be included. The rationale for the latter? "Virtual PC Express enables a legacy application to run unchanged on a legacy Windows operating system in a virtual environment on top of Windows Vista Enterprise," said Microsoft in a statement Monday. Although Microsoft is using virtual machine technology rather than emulation, the end result is similar to the promise Apple Computer made when it moved to Mac OS X that earlier applications would run on the new operating system. However, only companies with Software Assurance or a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement in place will be able to acquire Vista Enterprise.

Windows Vista Home Basic will be the entry-level OS for those home users outside of developing countries (which Microsoft will serve with Windows Vista Starter), and is suitable for the simplest chores, like Web browsing, e-mail, and basic document creation.

Windows Vista Home Premium adds to Basic with Windows Media Center-like features, DVD burning, and Tablet PC technology. A Premium-equipped PC will be able to connect to Microsoft's Xbox game console and display and record TV (including HD). Other features in Premium, but missing in Basic, range from a PC-to-PC sync tool to backups via cabled or wireless networks. Analysts expect that most consumer PCs will be pre-loaded with Home Premium.Windows Vista Home Ultimate will take the top slot for consumers, but Microsoft is keeping details close to its vest. According to the company, "Ultimate is the first operating system that brings together all the entertainment features, mobility features and business-oriented features available in Windows Vista." Analysts have predicted that Ultimate will have all the features of Home Premium and Business, along with additional add-ons targeting gamers and podcast authors.

Windows Vista Starter won't be sold at retail, but will be pre-installed on systems in selected countries where Microsoft has launched Windows XP Starter Edition, such as India, Russia, and Indonesia. Like XP Starter Edition, it will run only three applications simultaneously.

Other details divulged by Microsoft include:

-- All versions except for Starter and Home Basic will include the new Aero interface that boasts a transparent look and Flip 3D desktop navigation.

-- All versions except for Starter will include the desktop search function long touted by Vista (and before that, Longhorn) developers.-- All versions will ship with the Sidebar feature. Sidebar is Microsoft's term for the engine -- and Gadgets are its name for the mini-applications -- that lets users display single-purpose applets on the desktop. Sidebar/Gadgets is essentially the Redmond, Wash.-based developer's answer to Apple Computer's Mac OS X 10.4 Desktop/Widgets.

-- Finally, all except Starter will be available in both 32- and 64-bit versions, with both packaged in the same SKU. "The bits will be in the same SKU," confirmed a Microsoft spokesperson Monday.

"[Users] would just download the correct one depending on their hardware," she added.

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