Pick the Right Vista Version

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Which Vista Edition is Right For You?

Microsoft Vista has arrived in lively launch events around the globe. The midnight crowds who queued up to be the first to buy have taken their discs home and have fired up the new operating system. If you weren't among those earlybirds, the lines are shorter and the shelves are still full . . . of several different versions of Vista.

Microsoft Vista isn't a single product--the software giant has shipped a selection of five versions of its next-generation operating system. You can choose among the $199 Home Basic version; shell out $239 for the Home Premium edition; pay $299 for a Business edition; or spring for the Ultimate edition priced at $399. Microsoft also offers a version specifically tuned to 64-bit computer systems. Puzzled? Let's get acquainted with those different versions.

Start with Basics?

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

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.

Checking out Vista's Many Flavors

What does the Business version get you?

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

Next: Vista in other versions and even on other platforms.

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