Eventually, were going to see Vista come out. Yes, I know, even at this late date, Vista is still getting unexpected delays—it was set to go to manufacturing Oct. 25, but its not going to make it—but it is on its way.
My question, though, is: What version will actually work for you come that day?
Thats not an idle question. I knew several businesses that were burned by XP Home when it first came out because theyd assumed they could save a hundred bucks a box and use XP Home PCs on their domain and AD (Active Directory)-based networks.
They were dead wrong. You cant do it, unless you didnt mind blowing your networks security by making some unauthorized tweaks to your systems.
With six different versions, the potential for buying the wrong version for the job has just gone up. Buy too low and you dont get the functionality you need. Or, buy too high, and you get some office “functionality,” like the Game Performance Tweaker that you really dont need.
Lets me start though by looking at whats not in Vista. No, Im not talking over long-lost Vista features like the WinFS or the Next-Generation Secure Computing Base. Im talking about XP features that arent in Vista.
Some of them are minor. I mean, does anyone still use the gopher Internet protocol?
Some of the old features, however, are major departures. For example, Windows Messenger, the XP IM client, is history. There is a link to download Windows Live Messenger, the IM client formerly known as MSN Messenger, but its not the same thing.
NetMeeting, the VOIP (voice over IP), desktop sharing and videoconferencing client, is also going bye-bye. Its being replaced by Windows Meeting Space.
I know many businesses, and third-party applications, that are using Windows Messenger and NetMeeting together all the time for such purposes as IM discussions over a whiteboard or Web conferencing.
I foresee a lot of grief for enterprises that have made these uses central to their business.
I can also see great pain ahead for anyone whos foolish enough to buy Windows Vista Starter.
In theory, you wont be able to buy it in the United States. In practice, I know there will be gray-market copies of it for sale in the States at unbelievable prices.
I can think of nothing of any value in Starter for any user. You would be better off running Windows 98. Im not joking.
I could go on and on about this ridiculous bottom-feeder version of Vista, but I can sum it up with two of its “features.”
It can only access 256MBs of RAM, and you can only run three applications on it at a time. This isnt a 21st-century operating system. Its a bad joke even as a 20th-century one.
Windows Vista Home Basic is better. Its not completely crippled the way Starter is. At the same time, its not much of a home operating system, and its a flop for businesses.
For instance, what is Vistas one feature that has people talking? The answer: Vistas eye-candy, the Aero Glass interface and all of its translucent, 3D prettiness.
Guess what, its not in Starter and its not in Basic either. You also wont find such home favorites as DVD Video Authoring.
As for business use, forget about it. Like XP Home before it, Basic doesnt work or play well with serious, aka domain or AD-based, networks.
It also doesnt have such potentially useful business functionality as network backup or the EFS (Encrypted File System).
Premium, however, is a worth-while home distribution. It does have Aero, presuming you have the graphic fire power to support Aero that is. It also has DVD Video Authoring and Media Center support.
Its also more useful for a business environment with EFS and both scheduled and network backup features. Unfortunately, like XP Home before it, its crippleware in one crucial respect: You still cant use it in a domain/AD-based LAN.
Now, Premium may have support for the rumored “Quattro” home network server. But, its anyone guess if the home Longhorn server will ever appear.
Even if it does, its years away, and Im sure the Quattro server wont be compatible with business network servers.
Next up, we have the two business Vistas: Business and Enterprise. They include all the extras that are missing from the various home versions. They also both have Shadow copy client protection.
This is a Server 2003 feature, which automatically makes shadow copies of files and folders ever day. That way, if a file gets deleted or fouled up beyond belief, you can always look at the directory with Explorer and click on Previous Versions to step back in time and get an older copy.
Of course, this eats up hard-drive space, but on the other hand, chances are youd be willing to trade disk room for the belts and suspender of an automatic and local backup.
As for the other differences between Business and Enterprise, Im hard pressed to see any that are worthwhile.
Since Enterprise will only be available through SA (Software Assurance) contracts, its impossible to say anything about price-comparisons except that it will be more expensive than business.
Other than that, what you get with Enterprise is Virtual PC, a virtualization program that can only run up to four instances of Vista or another operating system; a multi-language user interface; the SUA (Subsystem for UNIX-Based Applications); and the CornerStone Secure Startup/full volume encryption security technologies.
Im hard-pressed to see any pressing need from enterprise users for paying extra for any of this functionality.
For all that theres a lot of talk about virtualization, unless youre a developer or a software tester, theres not a lot of use for virtualization on the desktop.
On the same note, if you really want to run a Unix or Linux application on your PC, youre a lot better off doing it with VMware running instances of both operating systems than using SUA.
And CornerStone? Yes, since laptops with secrets on them seem to be disappearing every day, an encrypted hard drive is certainly a good idea.
However, if the revised EFS isnt enough protection, than youve got bigger security problems than CornerStone is going to solve.
Sometime after Vista ships, Enterprise customers will also get Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack for Software Assurance.
Right now, its full of vague promises. Like what does “applications are delivered on-demand to clients, improving the time it takes to recover users from desktop failures” really mean? And, whats delivering them anyway. Windows Live?
Others sound more like the kind of nonsense Ive been hearing for years from all vendors. For example, “IT help desk call volume is dramatically reduced by eliminating application conflicts. Users have a more reliable desktop experience.” Yeah! Right on! But, oh does that mean if I buy Business instead of Enterprise I dont get a more reliable desktop experience?
Some of this, like the built-in software inventory module, may be useful for some companies.
Personally, I find it hard to imagine paying extra for vague promises and software inventory when any enterprise should already have that functionality well in hand.
Unless you have a really pressing need for one of the more concrete Enterprise features, I wouldnt bother with it.
Finally, theres Ultimate which includes all the consumer stuff, like the Movie Maker and Media Center functionality along with all the business goodies. Its also, what a surprise, the most expensive of all of the Vistas.
Vista Ultimate is expected to run a hefty $399 full retail, with an upgrade price of $259.
Its bottom-line time. For home users, Home Premium is the Vista to buy. Business users should just buy Business Vista, and, unless Microsoft can come up with better reasons, avoid Enterprise.
Oh, but before I go, let me add that the Linux and Mac desktops, are every bit as good now, if not better, than Vista will be tomorrow.
So long as youre seriously thinking about upgrading your PCs, you really should consider the non-Microsoft alternatives. You may just be surprised at how good they are these days.
Ziff Davis Internets Linux and Open-Source Linux Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been working and writing about technology and business since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.