One of the most confusing aspects of Vista’s release was that it came in six product versions, without clear information differentiating between them. It meant that the high-end Vista products looked too expensive for what they offered, and for anyone looking to upgrade from XP, the choice was bewildering.
Microsoft is set to continue with multiple versions in Windows 7, opting for five versions: Windows 7 Starter, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate form the full range. A version of Home Basic will only be available in emerging markets, sold on new computers.
Most new computers sold in Australia, once Windows 7 has launched, will come with either Home Premium or Business. Netbooks will likely carry Windows 7 Starter or Home Premium.
Microsoft’s sop to those who found Vista’s range confusing is to make sure that from Starter up, each version contains the features of the version before it. So you won’t find that the Professional or Enterprise versions lack a Media Center that Premium contains, for example.
In addition, the Windows Anytime Upgrade function in Windows 7 will allow you to upgrade electronically to a higher-end product. If you buy Home Premium, and really need Ultimate, it should be a simple matter of a few clicks and a small amount of installing to upgrade.
While there will be upgrade versions for those people currently using Vista, you won’t be able to upgrade from XP to Windows 7, or from 32-bit Windows to a 64-bit version. In those cases, you’ll have to perform a clean install, though you will be eligible for a discounted 'upgrade' version of Windows 7 if you move from XP.
Windows 7 Starter allows up to 3 concurrent applications, and is aimed at ‘emerging markets’; it also sounds like it will suit netbook-based installations. It also provides the ability to join a Home Group the improved taskbar and JumpLists that all versions of Windows 7 include, but lacks Media Center or the ability to create a Home Group.
Windows 7 Home Premium offers all the features of Starter, but also has the Aero Glass interface that ships with Vista Ultimate, in its new improved form, and will contain the advanced Windows navigation we covered when Steve Ballmer was in Sydney showing off Windows 7. Premium will suit entertainment, with features that include better media format support and enhancements to Windows Media Center and media streaming. For touchscreen systems and tablets, multi-touch and improved handwriting recognition feature.
Windows 7 Professional is much more business-oriented, with managed network capabilities and Location Aware Printing suited to busy small to medium office environments. More importantly, there are data protection features, including advanced network backup and the ability to format and used Encrypting File System drives. Home and business users will be able to buy this version at retail, and because of its advanced networking capabilities it will suit some multi-computer households and SOHO users as well as SMB.
Windows 7 Enterprise will only be available to volume business license customers: it includes advanced security features, such as BitLocker data protection on internal and external drives, as well as the data protection features of Professional. Easy connectivity to corporate networks and the ability to lock unauthorized software from running round out the enterprise features.
Windows 7 Ultimate is the only retail product that will include Virtual Hard Disks (VHC) combined with the ability to boot from VHD; it offers all the features of Enterprise (and by extension, all those of the other versions), but probably won’t be sold on new PCS. It, like Vista Ultimate before it, is a bit of a wildcard, and it will be a while before we’ll know whether it will deliver better on “extra content” promises than Vista Ultimate did.