Windows Vista FAQ

Vista Versions

Q. What's with all these different versions of Vista?
Q. I have a tablet PC. Can I install Vista on it? Should I?
Q. Home Basic looks pretty affordable. Can I get by with it?
Q. What does the Business version get you?
Q. What does the 64-bit version get you? Is there any reason not to run it on a capable PC?
Q. Do I have to buy a different disc for the 64-bit version?
Q. Will cheapo OEM versions be available for people who build their own PCs?
Q. If I get one version, can I upgrade to a different one later?
Q. Can I run Windows Vista on a Mac?
Q. I've heard all kinds of horror stories about how the Windows Vista license will force users to buy another copy of the OS if they upgrade their PC. Are they true?

Q. What's with all these different versions of Vista?

A. Windows Vista's mitosis into five retail flavors is nothing new. Though Windows XP came in only two retail editions--Home and Professional--Microsoft also released two OEM versions: Media Center Edition and Tablet PC Edition. In effect, the features of XP's four editions are being recombined into four new retail Vista editions.

Picking the right one for you isn't as hard as it may seem. If your hardware barely meets the new OS's minimum requirements, you don't care about Vista's slick new Aero interface, you don't connect to a Windows Server domain, and you don't need Media Center or Tablet PC features, you can choose Home Basic--but under those circumstances you probably won't get much out of Vista, anyway. For another $60, Home Premium gives you Aero and Media Center.

If you connect to a Windows Server domain, you need the Business edition. If you want Media Center plus business features (who knows--maybe you have to record TV shows for your job, or work remotely from the living room), you'll have to spring for the Ultimate edition, which includes every Windows Vista feature there is.

Q. I have a tablet PC. Can I install Vista on it? Should I?

A. Yes you can, if you buy a Vista version that offers tablet functionality: Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, or Ultimate. But before you do, check your hardware configuration against Vista's requirements. Many tablet PCs are relatively underpowered and may not make very satisfactory Vista systems.

Vista editions that do support tablets introduce some new pen-oriented features. You gain more control over where the Tablet Input Panel (TIP) writing area appears, the cursor changes shape to make what you're doing clearer, and gestures called "Flicks" enable you to perform navigational tasks such as scrolling with a quick pen maneuver.

Q. Home Basic looks pretty affordable. Can I get by with that?

A. If your hardware is up to snuff, spending the extra $60 to bypass Basic and jump to Home Premium is pretty appealing. Premium gives you Aero (and the very cool Flip 3D when you tab through your running applications while holding down the Windows key) plus Media Center. If your graphics hardware is too ancient to support Vista's Aero interface, the rest of your system is probably going to bog down with Vista anyway. In that case, you might do well to stick with Windows XP SP2 or to install a memory-thrifty but secure Linux distribution such as Xubuntu. Or buy a new PC with Vista Home Premium preinstalled.

Q. What does the Business version get you?

A. Most significantly, it lets you log in to and access resources on a Windows Server domain (either in Windows Server 2003 or in the forthcoming Vista version of Windows Server), just as Windows XP Professional does. Like Windows XP Home Edition, the Home editions of Windows Vista lack support for domains. Again like XP Pro, Vista Business permits you to log in to and control your system remotely via the handy Remote Desktop tool: If you forget a file while you're on a trip to Chicago, for example, Remote Desktop lets you connect to your office PC and copy or e-mail the file to your laptop.

Q. What does the 64-bit version get you? Is there any reason not to run it on a capable PC?

A. Like the 64-bit version of Windows XP, the 64-bit version of Windows Vista looks almost identical to the 32-bit version but allows you to run both 32-bit and 64-bit applications, and to use more than 4GB of system memory. The 64-bit versions of data-intensive applications such as CAD, photo-, video-, and audio-editing tools may perform better than 32-bit versions on the same system. However, 64-bit Windows has some drawbacks, starting with the fact that it requires 64-bit drivers, which are sometimes hard to come by. In addition, the 64-bit version of a program typically requires more memory than the 32-bit version does. Eventually, we'll probably all be using 64-bit operating systems (and then 128-bit, etc.). But for now, unless you need to run a 64-bit application, stick with 32-bit Windows.

Q. Do I have to buy a different disc for the 64-bit version?

A. Each retail version of Windows Vista will contain 32- and 64-bit forms of the OS.

Q. Will cheapo OEM versions be available for people who build their own PCs?

A. Yes, though Microsoft had not disclosed pricing information as of this writing.

Q. If I get one version, can I upgrade to a different one later?

A. Yes. Microsoft plans to add a Control Panel applet that will let you upgrade to a more feature-rich edition of Windows Vista, presumably by using a credit card. Pricing and other details have not been determined (or revealed to the public) as yet.

Q. Can I run Windows Vista on a Mac?

Yep. The two major options for running Windows on a Macintosh system--Parallels and Apple's Boot Camp--both support it.

Q. I've heard all kinds of horror stories about how the Windows Vista license will force users to buy another copy of the OS if they upgrade their PC. Are they true?

A. No. Initially, Microsoft imposed some pretty severe restrictions on Windows Vista usage following computer upgrades. But the company backed off after an outcry. Windows Vista licensing is now identical to Windows XP licensing: You can transfer your license to a new or rebuilt PC as often as you like, as long as you uninstall it on your old machine first.

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