Windows Vista Basic
Six versions of Vista sounds like a lot, but in fact there were seven official editions of Windows XP ó Home, Professional, Starter Edition, Media Center Edition, Tablet PC Edition and two versions for fancy 64-bit processors. Despite this, though, most people were only ever asked to choose between two: Home and Professional. With Vista, itís more complicated, as itís easy to go online and buy a notebook PC with one of four different versions. Two other versions of Vista are so rare that they can be quickly discounted. Windows Vista Starter is sold at a very low cost. Its only hidden features are limitations: it can only run a handful of programs at once, doesnít work with all processors and canít use hard disks larger than 250GB.
Vista Enterprise Edition has some interesting features and no such limitations, but itís only sold to large businesses so you should never be offered a copy, or a PC running it, for sale. The cheapest version of Vista that you are likely to be offered is Vista Home Basic. You can pick up a boxed copy for around approximately $75 ó and although it isnít hobbled like Vista Starter it, too, is characterised more by what it lacks than what it includes. Most
notably it canít create DVD discs without extra software, and the backup tool canít schedule backups to run at certain times. Aero (the name for the technology that creates fancy translucent windows and the new Flip 3D
effect that appears when you press the Windows Key and Tab) is also missing from
Home Basic. The only two hidden features that you might find useful are the Vista Parental Controls, which are included in full, and the Mobility Center, although this is lacking one of its most useful tools ó Presentation Settings.
Windows Vista Premium
The next step up, and the operating system included with most home computers, is Vista Home Premium. This includes everything found in Home Basic, and more besides. Unlike Basic, Home Premium can burn DVD discs and play DVD movies without the aid of any additional software. A boxed copy of Vista Home Premium can be found online for around approximately $100. Itís hard not to notice Windows Aero, which gives windows a semi-transparent look and enables the snazzy Flip 3D browser. Two new features that you might not spot, though, are the enhanced backup tool, which can be set to back up files according to a schedule, and the support for touchscreen control. If you are lucky enough to have a tablet PC, a touch-sensitive display or a graphics tablet, Home Premium can make the most of it. Another obvious addition to Home Premium is Windows Media Center. This provides a simplified way to browse through and play music, videos and digital photos, and connects neatly to Windows Media Player. It also has a number of handy hidden features. The best, is undoubtedly its electronic programme guide (EPG).
Add a TV tuner to your PC, and Media Center will convert it into an all-singing, all-dancing personal video recorder (PVR) that can watch, record and time-slip TV programmes. You can also buy a remote control and receiver to operate it from a distance ó ideal if you can connect the computer to a high-definition TV. Whatís more, if you have an Xbox 360 games console, it can be used as a Media Center Extender. If you have a home network, this can give access to all your music, video and TV in another room.
Windows Vista Business
Although most computers youíll find for sale include Vista Home Premium, itís not uncommon to find notebooks that use Vista Business instead. As the name makes abundantly clear, this version is mainly intended for corporate use, but it also includes a couple of hidden extras that can be useful at home, too. Windows Shadow Copy sounds bizarre, but itís a really handy feature that runs in the background, saving each previous version of a file ó so if, for example, you accidentally crop somebodyís head out of a photo then save it, Shadow Copy will have kept the original safe for you. The Vista Business backup tool has a clever trick up its sleeve, too: it can create disk image files. With disk imaging programs available for approximately $50, this can be a real money saver, as well as a great way to back up all your files. Another great hidden feature of Vista Business is the Encrypting File System (EFS). This allows you to quickly and easily scramble the contents of a file or folder so that it canít be read by other users or anyone who might have stolen your computer. Despite being businesslike, this version still includes the Aero desktop with all its graphical eye-candy. On the other hand, a few features found in Home Premium are missing. You canít make video DVD discs, for instance, and there is no Windows Media Center. A boxed copy of Vista Business costs around approximately $140.
Windows Vista Ultimate
Interestingly, Vista Ultimate ó the biggest and most complete version of Vista ó can be found online for around approximately $130, making it cheaper than the lesser Business version. Ultimate is notable for including just about every feature from all the other versions of Vista, with home entertainment tools such as Media Center and DVD burning and the office tools from Vista Business built-in. This makes it ideal for the indecisive or completists, but does it have any hidden extras all to itself, and are they any good? The answer is yes and no. Vista Ultimate includes access to a collection of ĎUltimate Extrasí but so far these have been rather underwhelming: you can download new sounds, video
wallpaper, and a poker game for example, but nothing truly groundbreaking.
On the other hand, Vista Ultimate has a hidden trick in the form of Bitlocker.
Although Vista Business can use its EFS system to quickly encrypt files and folders, Bitlocker enables Ultimate users to encrypt their entire hard disk should they wish. A USB memory key can be used in place of a password, and the computer will not start Windows without that memory key plugged in.