If you are using Windows XP or Windows Vista and are thinking about upgrading to Windows 7, you might be wondering what is the difference between all the different versions. Unlike OS X, which has one version for everyone, Windows tries to break it down into several groups at different prices. Depending on what you are going to use your computer for, you may only need the Home or Ultimate version.
There are actually 6 different versions of Windows 7, but we’ll only worry about three because the rest are not really available for consumer purchase. There is Windows 7 Starter, which is usually found on netbooks. Windows 7 Home Basic is available in emerging markets, but not in the US. And Windows 7 Enterprise is sold under volume licenses to companies and institutions.
In this post, I will share the differences between Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate. Please note that if you buy the most basic version of Windows, you can still upgrade at any time using Windows Anytime Upgrade. Basically, the Home version includes Professional and Ultimate, but these additional features will only be installed upon purchase. You can run Anytime Upgrade from Windows itself.
For a quick overview of the differences, you can always go to the following Microsoft page:
I find their comparison too simplistic and not very clear, especially if you want to know all the additional features of each version. This table covers just a few highlights, most of which are useless, such as “improved desktop navigation” and “Internet Explorer 8”.
I will try to give a more complete list of what features are missing or added to each version. Let’s start with Home Premium as it forms the basis of all other versions.
Here are the various aspects of Home Premium:
- For starters, Windows 7 Home Premium is only supported until January 2015. In contrast, Windows 7 Professional is supported until January 2020. Oddly enough, Windows 7 Ultimate is only supported until January 2015.
- The maximum memory for Home Premium is 16 GB. For Professional and Ultimate, this is 192 GB (Windows 64-bit).
- Home Premium can only support 1 processor. Professional and above can support up to 2 processors.
- Home Premium cannot back up to network storage (local backups only). Professional and Ultimate can back up to the network.
- Home Premium can only be a remote desktop client (can only be connected from another machine). With Professional and Ultimate, you can use Windows as your remote desktop host and connect to other machines.
- Home Premium and above all support homegroups
In addition to the points mentioned above, Professional also has the following features and services:
- Dynamic disk support. This allows you to programmatically implement RAID, which can be useful for a system with multiple hard drives.
- Encrypted file system – allows you to use encryption at the file system level. Not as secure as BitLocker, which is only available in Ultimate.
- Location-Aware Printing
- Presentation Mode – Allows you to change how Windows behaves during a presentation, i.e. adjust the volume, display a different wallpaper, prevent the splash screen, etc.
- Group Policy – allows you to control almost all aspects of the Windows operating system locally or through Windows Server 2003/2008.
- Offline Files and Folder Redirection – again, this is more of a feature of a Windows computer that is joined to a domain.
- Ability to join Windows domain – Home Premium cannot join Windows domains
- Windows XP Mode – allows you to run Windows XP SP3 on Windows 7. Used for compatibility with older programs.
- Software Restriction Policy
Ultimate has just a few additional features that are useful to consumers. Most of the advanced features in Ultimate are designed for the IT professional.
- BitLocker Drive Encryption. Unlike EFS, which uses file system-level encryption, BitLocker uses full disk encryption.
- Instantly switch between 35 different languages.
- AppLocker – Ability to block the launch of software on your computer.
- BranchCache – Provides fast access to files over the WAN.
- Direct Boot from VHD – Allows the computer to boot from a VHD file with or without the host operating system.
- DirectAccess – Keeps mobile users connected on the go.
- Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)
So while Ultimate sounds great, it is useless to the average consumer. Even to some extent, Professional is not very useful for the average user. It’s probably best to get Home Premium and then upgrade to Professional or Ultimate if you ever need to. Let’s hope Windows 8 doesn’t even have other versions to choose from!