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Windows Vista Primer Windows Vista Primer: We try to ease the choosing process with a quick guide to the differences and features of Microsoft's latest OS.
Date: January 30, 2007
Manufacturer:
Written By: Scott Harness
Price:

With Windows Vista out there already, some folks will be running Microsoft's latest edition to the Windows family, however the majority of you will be waiting for the end of January 2007 release date. Over the past few months and even years, there has been a lot of information and changes to the OS and it has become quite a confusing mess in regards to the different versions and licences. Should I get Home Basic? What's so special about Vista Ultimate? Only 2 reactivations before I need to buy a new copy? Should I go 64bit?

As much information as there is about Vista, there is also as much misinformation currently floating around, so lets see if we can sort through it all and help you make an informed decision on what to get. Should you get Vista if you already have XP? That's a bit out of the scope of this article and worthy of an Editorial all of it's own. This article is a quick and dirty look at the different versions of Vista and will assume you have decided you have an interest in purchasing Vista.

Heinz 57 - The many flavours of Vista

Unlike Windows XP, Vista is available in many different flavours to cater for the differing needs (and wallets) of all end users, as well as to comply with international rulings. Each of them have differing features that may or may not be available in other versions. At first it can be quite confusing, but the majority of you really only have to concentrate on 4 versions.

Features

Windows Defender and Windows Firewall
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Instant Search and Internet Explorer 7
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Windows Aero GUI and Flip3D
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Windows Mobility and Tablet PC Support
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Windows Meeting Space
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Windows Media Center (and Xbox360 Extender)
No
Yes
No
Yes
Advanced Business Backup Features
No
No
Yes
Yes
Business Networking and Remote Desktop
No
No
Yes
Yes
Windows Bitlocker Drive Encryption
No
No
No
Yes
Windows Vista Ultimate Extras
No
No
No
Yes

In addition to the above you can also get Windows Vista Starter, which is specially designed for emerging markets. You won't find this version in high income countries such as (but not limited to) the United States, Canada, the European Union, Australia or New Zealand. Vista Enterprise is available only to Microsoft's Software Assurance (SA) customers via volume licensing and is functionally similar to Windows Vista Business, but with a few additional features. The average user won't have access to Vista Enterprise.

There are also the N (and K) versions of Vista designed to satisfy European and South Korean rulings. The N versions basically remove all the Windows Media Player, Movie Maker and other Windows Media related features. Ironically, the XP N versions are not very popular and I've no doubt that it will be the same for Vista N.

To whittle it down some more from our main 4 versions, well Vista Business is designed to be used by small businesses who have no need for the larger scale of Vista Enterprise. Vista business, unlike XP Professional doesn't include any of the 'cool' features so that will really cut it down to just 3 versions. Vista Basic will also likely not be as popular among your average end user; it's called basic for a reason (as the table above shows). That leaves us with 2 versions; Home Premium and Ultimate. But before you make a decision on those two or any of the others, read on to see what other information might affect your choice.

OEM, Upgrade or Retail Licence?

As many of you may be aware, their have been licence changes made from those we are used to with Windows XP, although Microsoft prefer to call it a redefining or clarification. Either way, it's information you should be aware of before purchasing as different versions have different rules.

OEM

OEM installations and licences are designed for Original Equipment Manufacturers and while it is possible to buy an OEM copy (quite cheaply in fact) of Vista without being an OEM, there are restrictions that apply you should be aware of. The main one that will be of interest to enthusiasts is that an OEM licence is designed to install on the one machine and stay on that machine for the duration of that machines operating life; it is not designed to be transferred to a new machine if you upgrade. The same applies if you buy a machine pre-installed with Vista; it will almost certainly be an OEM copy and not transferable. I know that many of you are thinking “Well, that's no different from Windows XP, and I've had no trouble transferring that before”, but it IS different. While time will inevitably tell, Microsoft intend to enforce the OEM licence this time around. The same rules for activation apply as with XP, although Microsoft have said that what constitutes the need for reactivation will be more flexible. Bottom line; if you plan on making multiple upgrades or transferring your OS to a new machine often, you should probably steer clear of an OEM licence despite the appealing price. If on the other hand you rarely change the major components in your PC (motherboards or hard drive for example) and don't expect you will change your current PC for a new machine then a cheap OEM copy will suit you.

Upgrade

Upgrade disks can be quite confusing, and have their own rules to follow as to what can and can't be upgraded from. If you purchase an upgrade disk it will only upgrade from a Windows XP or Windows 2000 installation and only to a corresponding (or better) version of Windows Vista. Windows versions before 2000 will not upgrade and you will need to purchase a full version of Vista. If the edition of Windows Vista that you choose to install will result in a loss of functionality over your current edition of Windows, a clean install must be done or the installation must be completed to a new partition on your PC. There are two ways to go about upgrading.

Upgrade In-place: you install Windows Vista over your current Windows installation and retain your applications, files, and settings as they were in your previous install of Windows.

Clean Install: Upgrading to Windows Vista with a clean install means that you can use Windows Easy Transfer to automatically copy all your files and settings to an extra hard drive, another partition or some other storage device, and then install Windows Vista. After the installation is complete, Windows Easy Transfer reloads your files and settings on your upgraded PC. You will then need to reinstall your applications.

Just to make it clear here, you will need a qualifying OS installed to use an upgrade key; If you boot with the DVD and enter an Upgrade Edition product key, you will be directed to restart the computer and start Setup from the desktop.

So, Clean Install or In-place Upgrade? Obvious answer is to do a Clean Install as this traditionally leads to far fewer problems in the long run. However, the Vista installation process is quite different from previous versions of Windows. Still, if you are unsure, do a Clean Install. Should you wish to do an In-place Upgrade, you will need to refer to the following table to see if it's possible.

Home Basic

Home Premium

Business
Ultimate
Windows XP Professional
Windows XP Home
Windows XP Media Center
Windows XP Tablet PC
Windows XP Professional x64
Windows 2000

Orange = Clean Install Only, Blue = In-place Upgrade Available

Retail

Retail editions can perform either a Clean install or an In-place Upgrade as you wish. The setup process may be started by booting the DVD in your DVD drive regardless of any previous installations, or from the Windows desktop. Originally the Retail Licence was no different from the OEM licence, but Microsoft heard the outcry of enthusiasts and changed the EULA. Now the Retail licence, unlike an OEM licence, is also transferable from one machine to another but can only be used on one machine at a time. If you, like me, plan on altering your machine extensively and often then this is the version for you.

None of the above licences (unfortunately) cater for separate Virtual PC installations; you will need a separate licence to activate a Virtual PC installation.

32bit and/or 64bit?

Yet another choice to make, although in some situations you won't need to make that decision right away. Unlike Windows XP 64bit, Windows Vista 64bit has been designed to be as close as possible to the 32bit Vista version. What you will gain from 64bit is mainly the ability to use more than 4GB of system memory as well as the more obvious ability to run 64bit applications. Generally speaking, the 64bit versions of applications run faster than 32bit, but don't expect a huge increase from your favourite video or CAD programs right away; it is still quite early days for the majority of 64bit applications. The majority also increase performance by utilizing more memory, something that is a capability of 64bit Vista as mentioned earlier.

The drawbacks are that you will require 64bit drivers for your hardware, and these are currently few and far between. These drivers will need to be Digitally Signed drivers as well. Also, it's likely that most people will be running 32bit applications on their 64bit OS (yes, this is possible) and therefore will see little benefit. Another drawback is that 64bit Vista will not be able to run older 16bit applications, although this drawback will not affect a great many people.

So back to the choice. Well, if you buy a Retail Licence of Vista, you will get both the 32bit and 64bit available to you. This means you can install the safer bet (32bit) now, and update to 64bit when it becomes more mainstream (eventually it will happen). If however you go for an OEM licence, then you will need to choose which you want. Which is right for you? If you don't know, then I would say go for 32bit; you'll know if 64bit is the right choice for you.

F.A.Q

I'm still confused, what if I make the wrong choice?

Should you buy the version of Vista that currently appeals to you but decide later on that you wish you had got a 'higher' version, then don't panic. Enter Windows Anytime Upgrade. For a fee, you can electronically upgrade your licence to a higher version of Vista, and unlock the features for that higher version. Since the supplied DVD will be the same regardless of the version you buy (the Licensing Key determines the features available to you, not the disk) you likely won't need to download anything extra as it will already be on the disk you previously purchased. This should save you money over buying a whole new copy.

I have heard that 32bit versions of Vista won't allow for playback of High Definition Content, is this true?

No, it isn't. Vista doesn't support playback of High Definition Content out-of-the-box (although it does support DVD playback) but can play back High Definition Content such as that found on Blu-Ray or HD-DVD via third party software such as Cyberlinks PowerDVD. Vista does support HDCP to allow for playback of Protected High Definition Content.

So what about DRM and Vista?

Yes Vista contains DRM code, but if it didn't, you wouldn't be playing back protected media. HDCP is one example of content protection, and without it you wouldn't be playing HD-DVD's or Blu-Ray Disks that are protected. Yes, to view/listen to such protected content you will need HDCP compliant hardware as well (monitor and graphics card) but this is no different than a stand alone HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player; they need to support HDCP and you would need a HDCP supporting TV as well. This and other forms of DRM protection have been featured in previous Windows or their Service Packs, some date back to Windows ME. Do I agree with DRM? Hardly, seems more effort/cost than it's worth and I despise being treated like a criminal before I've even purchased anything, but the bottom line is without the content protection support in Vista you wouldn't be playing protected content in Vista at all. Unprotected content won't be affected.

Will my current PC run Vista?

That is entirely dependant on the hardware you are running. Microsoft say you will need at least an 800MHz CPU, a DirectX 9 capable graphics card with WDDM support for Aero, Minimum of 512MB of system memory, 40GB of Hard Drive space and a DVD-Rom drive. My experience is that you will get much better performance need at least a 1.6GHz CPU and preferably 1GB of System Memory. A Dual Core CPU while not a must would be preferable. Otherwise you may find performance will suffer in comparison with Windows XP on the same hardware. Microsoft have created a software tool to check your system which you can get here.

If I buy a new PC, will it come with Vista installed?

The likelihood will increase with the age of this article, but should be a yes by now. If not, chances are you will be given an Upgrade Coupon which will allow you to update to a comparable Vista for free. The version of Vista you will get will depend on the version of XP you have; XP Home will get you Vista Home Basic, XP Media Center Edition will get you Vista Home Premium, and XP Professional will get you Vista Business. Vista Ultimate has no XP equivalent. Don't forget about Windows Anytime Upgrade either; You have XP Home and a coupon, get Vista Home Basic and then you can Anytime Update to Home Premium.

I decided to give 64bit a try but now I want to go back to 32bit. I own a Retail licence.

Not a problem, simply reinstall as 32bit. The Retail versions of Vista have both 32bit and 64bit versions of Vista in the box. As long as the hardware stays the same, while you will need to reactivate your copy, it won't go against your activation counter. And no, you can't have a dual boot scenario with one 32bit and one 64bit running at once, one or the other at any given time only.

I have a RAID setup; when I install Vista, will I still need to press F6 and load drivers via floppy disk?

No, Vista uses a slightly different method. During Setup, look for the Load Drivers button. From here you can load your RAID drivers from any connected device including a USB Flash Drive. If you don't use your floppy drive for anything else except loading RAID drivers, you can finally ditch it once and for all. At time of writing, RAID drivers for Vista are not so proliferate, but you may find that Vista contains the needed drivers anyway.

Can I dual boot with my Windows XP disk?

Yes, just remember the golden rule; Always install the older OS first.

Final Words

Hopefully, this article will have cleared up a few of the somewhat grey areas about the differing Vista versions and allow you to make an informed decision about what to purchase.

If you have any comments, be sure to hit us up in our forums.

Copyright 2001-2006 Viper Lair. All Rights Reserved.

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