Which Windows Do You Need at Home?

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2006-03-21 Print this article Print

Opinion: Are you a pro? There's a myth out there that Windows XP Pro is "more secure." The average home PC user gets nothing but $150 poorer by using it.

Most people need all the help they can get when they buy a new PC. Give them bad advice and theyre very likely to take it. Lately, Ive been hearing and seeing a lot of advice that home users should use Windows XP Pro. Usually the reasoning is some vague variation of "its more secure." Not only is this bad advice, its actually worse advice than it used to be. There are basically three editions of Windows XP: Windows XP Home, Windows XP Pro, and the new Windows XP Media Center Edition. Think of Media Center Edition as a hybrid with some entertainment-related features. Ill go into more detail below.

From the outset, XP Pro had very few features that Home lacked, but they were important features. The most important one has always been the ability to log into a Windows domain. The others of importance are support for EFS (Encrypted File System) and the ability to act as a server for Remote Desktop Connection.

As of the 2005 Edition, Windows XP Media Center Edition has EFS and Remote Desktop. EFS is certainly a security feature, although not one frequently useful for home PCs, even for home notebooks. As much as I like Remote Desktop, I have to engage in some serious sophistry to call it a security feature. There are a number of other feature differences, mostly obscure or very high-end. Here is Microsofts explanation, from the Media Center Edition 2005 FAQ:
    Q: Can I connect a new PC running Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 to a work network or domain?
    A: While you can access network resources on a work network or a domain, you cannot join a Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 PC to the domain. PCs running Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 are designed specifically for home use. Windows XP Professional features, specifically Domain Join and Cached Credentials (Credentials Manager for logons) are not included. As a result, you will be prompted for your logon user name and password to access network resources after you reboot or log back on to the PC. In addition, file shares or network resources that are set to require a domain-joined PC for access will not be available. Remote Desktop and Encrypting File System support are still included.

Since Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 is a superset of Windows XP Home, and they are priced the same, theres no reason to buy XP Home. This also leaves the ability to log into a Windows domain as the only reason left to prefer Windows XP Pro to Windows XP Home.

How can SMBs walk the line between cost-effective solutions and reliable security protection? Join Ziff Davis Media eSeminars, HP and PC Connection on March 29 at 4 p.m. ET, and learn how to develop an effective and affordable security and business protection strategy. Logging into a domain is a very important feature for clients on managed networks, where numerous important security features then come into play, including the ability for administrators to control the desktop appearance and rights of users; to install and remove applications on their desktops; and to control their access to network resources. But logging into a domain is not a feature for which many home users have a need, because almost none of them have access to a Windows domain.

Next page: Bad advice.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel