From Starter to Ultimate: What's really in each Windows 7 Edition?

Posted by Ed Bott @ 11:07 pm

Windows 7 Professional

As you march up the ladder of Windows 7 editions, the feature lists get smaller with each step. That’s because each edition contains all the features of the previous one. So for Windows 7 Professional, you get all the features in Home Premium, including Windows Media Center. That’s a huge change over earlier Windows versions. With XP, for example, Media Center was part of its own separate edition, and there was no way to combine its features with those in XP Professional. With Windows Vista, if you wanted a mix of features from Home Premium and Business editions, you had to pay a frightful premium for Vista Ultimate edition. I called it a “ripoff” back in 2006 and haven’t changed my opinion since then.

As you might guess from the name, the unique new features in Windows 7 Professional are aimed mostly at small businesses (and, to a lesser extent, enterprises). Here’s the list:

Advanced networking: If your network is built around a Windows domain, you need Professional edition or higher. This is the least expensive Windows 7 edition that can join a domain. This edition also incloudes the capability to allow Remote Desktop access to your computer from the network. There are other options, including third-party services like GoToMyPC and Microsoft’s own Live Mesh, but Remote Desktop works so well that it’s worth the premium, in my opinion.

Advanced file management: Offline Files is one of those hidden features that you probably don’t even know you need until you try it. By right-clicking a file or a folder on a network server and clicking Always Available Offline, you tell Windows to add that file or folder to your local cache, synchronize it when necessary, and index the cached files locally. The upshot is that your files are available even when your computer is disconnected from the network. (For a more detailed look at Offline Files, see this post.) The other advanced feature found only in this edition is support for Encrypting File System, which enables strong encryption of files on NTFS-formatted volumes.

Backup to network: The Windows Backup program offers the same set of features in all editions. Professional edition adds the option to store backed-up files and system images to a network location instead of limiting you to local hard drives and removable media. This option has some limitations, though. The most notable one is that only a single system image can be stored on a network location. If you create a new system image, it replaces the old one. System images stored locally (on an external USB hard drive, for example) are much better for this task, because they can store multiple incremental images, allowing you to store as many backups as the hard drive will hold.

Windows XP Mode: This feature is an add-on, still in beta, that includes a copy of Windows Virtual PC and a fully licensed copy of Windows XP Service Pack 3. It has some strict (and confusing) hardware requirements, and in operation can be a little confusing. But it does its primary job just fine, which is to allow you to use an older application or USB-connected hardware device that isn’t properly supported under Windows 7.

Presentation tools: If you live and die by PowerPoint, two features in this edition will be of interest to you. First is the Connect to Network Projector option, which allows you to to mirror your portable PC’s display on a projector connected to a wired or wireless network. The other is Presentation mode, an option in Windows Mobility Center that automatically kicks in when you connect to a projector and shuts down your instant messaging program, disables your screen saver, and suppresses system messages—all of the interruptions that professional presenters dread the most.

For businesses with domain networks, this is the only edition really worth considering. Enthusiasts will probably also find it attractive, if only for the Remote Desktop host capability.

Next: Cleaning up Ultimate’s bad reputation –>

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