Q: What are the differences in the new Windows Vista versions that are about to come out? – Jeremy

The final phase of Microsoft’s launch of Windows Vista, which is focused on the general retail consumer, is slated to occur on January 30th.

And in its classic ambiguous and confusing style, it is releasing four different consumer versions that are labeled as follows: Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate.

The Home Basic version is designed for very simple use (casual e-mail and Web surfing) and does not have any of the fancy new graphics capabilities, Media Center options for integration into your home entertainment system or the document sharing support for its productivity applications (such as Word and Excel) like the higher versions. The suggested retail price for the full retail package is $199 while the suggested retail for the upgrade is $99.95.

Home Premium, which is the most likely version for most households, adds support for the new “Aero” desktop graphical experience (it will look cooler!), the Windows Media Center home entertainment functions for working with music, video, and pictures on your big screen TV and does support document sharing with Windows Meeting Space. The suggested retail price for the full retail package is $239 while the suggested retail for the upgrade is $159.

The Business version is designed for what it sounds like: business users. It removes the home entertainment components (Media Center) and adds business related features such as business backup services as well as a hardware diagnostic “warning” system. The suggested retail price for the full retail package is $299 while the suggested retail for the upgrade is $199.

The Ultimate version is for those who want all of the business features with all of the home entertainment features as well as the only consumer version that incorporates its “BitLocker” Drive Encryption technology (very helpful for those that have to comply with data privacy regulations, such as doctors and dentists). The suggested retail price for the full retail package is $399 while the suggested retail for the upgrade is $259.

An additional consideration for those who want to upgrade their existing computers is the current version of Windows that you are running. Not all previous versions of Windows will qualify for an in-place upgrade, which means you will have to wipe out the entire hard drive and start from scratch.

Windows XP Home users are pretty safe, in that you can perform an in-place upgrade with any of the new versions of Windows Vista, but those running Windows XP Pro can only perform an in-place upgrade with Vista Business and Vista Ultimate. If you have XP Pro and want to install Vista Basic or Vista Home Premium, you will have to perform a clean install (remove the existing version of Windows).

If you have anything other than Windows XP or Windows 2000 (Windows 98, ME, NT) you will also be required to perform a clean install.

If you currently run Windows XP Media Center Edition, you can only perform in-place upgrades with Vista Home Premium or Vista Ultimate.

In addition to these considerations, unless your machine was built in the last six months, you will want to factor in a RAM upgrade as well. Vista is going to be very RAM hungry, so plan on upgrading to1 GB if you want the system to perform at its best!

Ken Colburn
President of Data Doctors Computer Services
Host of the award-winning Computer Corner radio show
Author of Computer Q&A in the East Valley Tribune newspapers

[tags]ken colburn, data doctors, vista, windows, vista version, Vista Home Premium, Vista Ultimate[/tags]