Windows 7 Product Editions:
Little Bit Simpler
As with Windows Vista, Windows 7 will ship in many different product editions. On the
surface, this seems confusing—just as confusing, in fact, as the Vista product line. But
this time, Microsoft made a few commonsense changes to the product lineup that should
make things easier on most people. So assume the Lotus position, breathe deeply, and
relax. It’s not as bad as it sounds.For starters, though there are, in fact, almost as many Windows 7 product editions as
there were for Windows Vista, most individuals will only need to consider a handful of
commonsense product editions. And with Windows 7, unlike with Vista, these product
editions are all true supersets of each other, so there are no overlapping feature sets,
as there were with some of the Vista product editions. That’s good news, both for those
migrating to Windows 7 and for those Windows 7 users who think they might want a more
powerful product edition.
Consider a typical issue with the Windows Vista product editions. In that version of
Windows, the Windows Vista Business edition didn’t include Windows Media Center, a
fun digital media application that was part of the Home Premium product. But business
users enjoy digital media too, especially when traveling, and they told Microsoft that this
division in the feature set didn’t make sense.
Okay, here’s what Microsoft is offering with Windows 7:
Windows 7 Home Basic (developing markets only)
Windows 7 Starter
Windows 7 Starter x64
Windows 7 Home Premium
Windows 7 Home Premium (x64)
Windows 7 Home Premium N (European Union only)
Windows 7 Professional
Windows 7 Professional (x64)
Windows 7 Enterprise
Windows 7 Enterprise (x64)
Windows 7 Ultimate
Windows 7 Ultimate (x64)
Why not just have one or two product editions, as we did back when Windows XP first
shipped? Microsoft says that it has over one billion Windows users worldwide and that their
needs are diverse and cannot all be met with a single product. So it has instead moved to
a “Russian nesting doll” model, where as you increment up the list of Windows 7 product
editions, features or capabilities are simply adopted from the previous editions. They are
true supersets of each other, and additive, not arbitrarily different.
Understanding the Differences and Choosing
the Right Version
The first step is to understand the differences between each Windows 7 product edition.
Then, you need to understand the various ways in which you can acquire Windows 7,
either as a standalone product or as an upgrade to an existing version of Windows (including,
confusingly, Windows 7 itself). After that, you can weigh the various trade-offs of
each option—features, price, and so on—and act accordingly.
Let’s do it.
Step 1: Whittling Down the Product Editions List
While the clinically sarcastic will dryly complain that there is precious real-world difference
between Vista’s 18 product editions and Windows 7’s 12, that’s just a smoke screen.
In the real world, most people will have to choose only between two Windows 7 product
editions. To get to this number, we need to temporarily forget about the differences
between 32-bit and 64-bit versions (don’t worry, we’ll get to that) and just skip over the
versions that really don’t matter. Once we do this, the following list emerges:
Windows 7 Starter (32-bit or x64)
Windows 7 Home Premium (x64)
Windows 7 Professional (x64)
Windows 7 Ultimate (x64)
Okay, this is four options, not two, but it’s still a much more manageable list than what
we started with. Before we whittle this down to just two options, let’s take a closer look at
the four options now in front of us. After all, there were 12 product editions in the original
list. How did we cut it down this far so quickly?
Windows 7 Home Basic
You don’t need or want Windows 7 Home Basic. But it’s even simpler than that: you can’t
get it anyway. That’s because Windows 7 Home Basic is available only with new PCs in
emerging markets. You can’t get it in the U.S., Europe, or any other developed area.
So unless you’re buying a PC in one of the few countries in which you can acquire
Windows 7 Home Basic, you probably won’t hear much more about this product. And if
you are buying such a PC, your computing needs are pretty basic, so it’s unlikely that
you’re ready for this book just yet.
The K and N Editions Aren’t for You, Either
Whatever Windows 7 versions are being offered in Korea (with a K moniker) or in Europe
(with an N moniker), they’re designed to satisfy the antitrust regulations and rulings in
those locales, and you should also ignore them. Why? Because these versions are more
limited than the non-K and non-N Windows 7 versions that are sold in South Korea and
the EU, respectively. And they don’t cost any less, so there’s no reason to even consider
them, even if you do live in these areas.
Consider the Windows 7 N edition, which is sold only in EU markets. This product came
about because of a 2004 EU ruling that required Microsoft to offer versions of Windows
without the Windows Media Player included. The requirement for a separate version of
Windows was intended to enhance competition in the market for media players, such as
the downloadable RealPlayer application.
But because Microsoft sells its N versions for the same price as its full-featured Windows
versions, demand for the N versions never materialized. Until there’s a big price difference,
consumers will continue to interpret N to mean Not Interested. Ditto for the K versions,
though we’re having trouble coming up with a witty K-related word to help you remember
why. All you need to remember is that you should forget these versions ever existed.
You’re Not the Enterprise
Windows 7 Enterprise is a special version of Windows 7 that is aimed at Microsoft’s largest
corporate customers. It is functionally identical to Windows 7 Ultimate, but there is one
difference between the two products: whereas Windows 7 Ultimate is available at retail
(both with new PCs and as stand-alone software), Windows 7 Enterprise is available only
through Microsoft’s corporate volume licensing subscription programs. Because of the
unique way in which you must acquire this version, chances are good you won’t be hunting
around for Windows 7 Enterprise. That said, if you do get a PC from work with Windows 7
Enterprise on it, you’re using the functional equivalent of Windows 7 Ultimate.
32-bit Versions of Windows 7
The differences between 32-bit (x86) versions of Windows 7 and 64-bit (x64) versions are
more complex, but here’s the weird bit: though virtually every single PC sold over the
past several years was x64 compatible, virtually every single copy of Windows that went
out the door before Windows 7 was, in fact, a 32-bit version.
No more. With Windows 7, it’s time to leave the 32-bit world behind for good, and the
first step is to run a 64-bit version of Windows 7. These versions of Windows 7 are fully
compatible with most of the 32-bit software that runs on 32-bit versions of the OS, and
they are likewise just about as compatible with the wide number of hardware devices
that are available on the market.
The biggest reason to go 64-bit is RAM: after all, 64-bit versions of Windows 7 can access
far more RAM than 32-bit versions (up to 192GB, depending on which version of Windows 7
you’re talking about, compared to less than 4GB of RAM in 32-bit versions).
Folks, with one minor exception, it’s time to say good-bye to 32-bit versions of Windows.
So with Windows 7, almost universally, we recommend that you seek out 64-bit (x64)
What is the one exception? Many netbook computers come with a version of Intel’s Atom
microprocessor that is incompatible with the x64 instruction set, and thus with x64 versions
of Windows 7. On such a PC, you will need to use a 32-bit version of Windows 7 instead.
And that’s just fine: given the limited usage scenarios for these computing lightweights,
that’s perfectly acceptable. It’s also the exception to the rule.
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