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The Windows Vista Situation
After an incredibly successful version of Microsoft's operating system Windows XP, came one of the biggest disappointments in the company's history - Windows Vista. While the operating system was a step in the right direction, Microsoft was mercilessly lynched by the media and the public for various reasons like missing features, impractical hardware requirements, lazy design decisions, useless eye-candy and most of all, the insane number of packaged editions available in the market.
In all, there were 6 different versions of Windows Vista available, out of which 5 were available for retail sale. The problem was compounded by the fact that various features were duplicated in different versions, sometimes impractically. For example, if you were a home user, you had a choice between Vista Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate. On top of that, if you lived in a developing country like China, Brazil, India and a few others, you had one more choice in the form of Windows Vista Starter. This meant that Joe Sixpack would be confused out of his wits while trying to find the perfect version of Vista for himself. Business users had it relatively easier in the form of Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Enterprise versions, out of which the latter wasn't available for retail sale. If you were living in Europe, chances are that you've probably seen a 'Windows Vista N' edition. These 'N' editions were released due to pressure by the EU (European Union) and the only difference was the absence of Windows Media Player in the Windows install.
After the success of Windows XP and its two editions (XP Home and XP Professional), Vista looked like a disaster. Looking at the progress Windows 7 is making, it seems like Microsoft is desperate to fix its mistakes and come good with its latest operating system.
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Windows 7 Editions
After having tried multiple betas of Windows 7, I'm happy to say that Microsoft has come good on its promise. While the latest version of Windows will still have six different versions, only two of them will be available via retail channels - Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional. The other four versions (Starter, Home Basic, Enterprise, and Ultimate) will only be available pre-installed on computers through OEMs, and are covered on the next page.
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Windows 7 Home Premium
This iteration of Windows Home Premium will have the same type of feature-set as Windows Vista Home Premium. Targeted at the home segment, it will be focused toward home and media use. A list of missing features as compared to the Professional version include the following: Encrypting Filesystem, ability to participate in a Windows Server domain, acting as Remote Desktop host, Presentation mode, Location aware printing, Bitlocker drive encryption, Applocker, DirectAccess, Branchcache Distributed Cache, Multilingual User Interface pack, and Virtual Hard Disk booting.
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Windows 7 Professional
Known as Windows Vista Business in the previous version, Windows 7 Professional is targeted towards small businesses and enthusiasts. Unlike Windows Vista, each Windows 7 version is a superset of the previous version, so it includes all the features included in Windows 7 and some more: Encrypting Filesystem, ability to participate in Windows Server domain, acting as Remote Desktop host, Presentation mode, and Location aware printing.
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Windows 7 Starter
This version of Windows 7 is strictly for people who don't use computers a lot and misses a lot of features present in other versions. Earlier versions of Windows Starter edition were only released in developing markets and had a number of artificial limitations to force most of the public to upgrade to more expensive versions. It can only run 3 applications simultaneously, doesn't have the Aero Glass theme/capability and will only be available in 32-bit editions. You will not be able to buy it from a store anytime soon since it's only available pre-installed through OEMs.
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Windows 7 Home Basic
Like the previous Starter editions, Home Basic will only be available in emerging markets, but it has the artificial 3-application limit removed with a few Aero Glass options available as well. Apart from those, users will have Windows Mobility Center and the Desktop Window Manager. This version will not have Windows Media Center capability, apart from many other things included in Windows 7 Home Premium.
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Windows 7 Enterprise
Targeted towards the enterprise segment, this edition is a superset of Windows 7 Professional and includes every feature advertised as being available in Windows 7. It will only be available through a volume licensing scheme (bulk) for companies who have a Software Assurance contract with Microsoft. Apart from the advertised features, the Enterprise version will also have a few SA-only exclusive benefits like the ability to run multiple virtual machines, access to Virtual PC Express, and Volume License Key (VLK) activation.
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Windows 7 Ultimate
Pretty much the "King" of all the Windows 7 versions, it will have every advertised feature in Windows 7. Though it will only be available pre-installed by OEMs, Microsoft has said that it might be sold through the retail channel during special promotional periods. If you look back at the Windows Vista story, it was the Ultimate version which received most of the flak for "Windows Ultimate Extras." This abomination of an exclusive feature was advertised as being one of the reasons to buy the Ultimate version. Sadly in reality, these extras were nothing more than a few useless features like language and sound packs; Windows DreamScene, Bitlocker and EFS; and two mediocre games.
Fortunately this time around, Microsoft isn't advertising any exclusive features in the Ultimate version of Windows 7 which means that the only features it has above Windows 7 Professional are: Bitlocker Drive Encryption, AppLocker, DirectAccess, BranchCache Distributed cache, Multilingual user packs and Virtual Hard Disk booting.
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Since Microsoft hasn't released any pricing details yet, it's difficult to suggest which version will be the most popular this time. Since the retail channel has only two editions, the easy choice would be to go for Windows 7 Home Premium unless you need the extra features advertised in the Professional version. As for OEMs, my money's on Ultimate being the most popular edition in the market.