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Microsoft To Release Six Versions Of Windows Vista

Vista will arrive in business and home-users editions, as well as a special low-priced "starter" edition for sale in India and other developing countries.

Microsoft plans to release Vista in six editions, including versions for business and home, a low-priced version for India and other emerging companies, and a version for sale in Europe that doesn't include the media player, bringing it in compliance with European antitrust rulings.

Microsoft plans to disclose the lineup for Vista Monday, after it inadvertently posted information about its packaging plans for the software on its Web site last week. Microsoft's new PC operating system will arrive in two editions for business customers, three editions for home users, and a special low-priced "starter" edition for sale in India, Russia, Mexico, and other developing countries.

Microsoft also plans to ship home and business versions of Windows Vista with its media-playing software removed for sale in Europe, in order to comply with a European Union antitrust order against the company.

Microsoft's decisions about how it packages new Vista technology for 64-bit computing, searching a PC's hard drive, encrypting a computer's contents, and connecting cameras and other entertainment peripherals reflects the changing nature of how people use PCs since Microsoft shipped its current desktop operating system, Windows XP, nearly five years ago. Many computer users employ the same machine at work and at home, says Barry Goffe, Microsoft's director of Windows client product management, and they want the best of both worlds all the time. "People are expecting more out of their PC," he says. As a result, each edition of Vista, except for the starter edition, will include 64-bit functionality out of the box, and every edition, except the starter and basic home editions, will include technology from today's Tablet PC and Media Center versions of Windows.

Competitors wasted no time criticizing the new product. "Vista doesn’t do a heck of a lot more than DOS did," said Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, at a meeting with reporters at Sun's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters late last week. Demands by U.S. customers such as the state of Massachusetts and by the European Union for openly published file formats "has to scare Microsoft to death," he said. "That's how you blow up the Office monopoly. And that's the key to blowing up the Windows monopoly."

In any case, Microsoft's business customers have been waiting for more information about how the company plans to package Vista's features. Last week, Microsoft released a new preview version of the software for companies to test. Vista will arrive in two business editions--standard and enterprise.

Here's how the Vista packages stack up:

- Windows Vista Business includes similar features to today's Windows XP Professional edition, including backup, networking, and group policy support. It includes Microsoft's new Aero user interface, a new search engine, and small-business features such as fax and scanning software and easier-to-understand help menus.

- Windows Vista Enterprise, available to Microsoft's largest corporate customers, adds new BitLocker hard-drive encryption, a virtual PC program for running software written for other platforms, and a new subsystem for running Unix apps.

- Windows Vista Home Premium is designed for the majority of home PC users and includes the ability to show photos on a large-screen TV, play music on a home stereo, write and copy DVDs, and edit high-definition video. It also includes the ability to sync files between two computers.

- Windows Vista Ultimate combines all the features of the Vista Business and Home Premium editions--it's designed for corporate employees who often work on company projects from home.

- Windows Vista Home Basic is aimed at users who mainly read and send E-mail and surf the Web. It doesn't include the Tablet PC, Media Center, photography, or music software in Vista Home Premium.

- Windows Vista Starter will retail only in emerging markets such as India, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, and Indonesia. It won't be available in the United States or Europe, and it runs only in 32-bit mode.

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