Since the late 20th century the market for personal computers has been growing and developing rapidly. The sudden diversity among customers and their increasingly differential demands created a need for specialized operating systems. During the late 1990’s, Microsoft developed Windows versions specifically targeted at businesses or home PC users.
With its introduction of Windows 2000, Microsoft started to release its operating systems in multiple editions. On the one hand this united previously diverse products under one hat and simplified marketing. On the other hand different groups of users were accommodated.
Windows 7 comes in six different flavors. In this article I have briefly reviewed the features of each edition. I have also made recommendations as to which version you should get, depending on the user group you belong to.
This is the most basic Windows 7 edition. Since Windows 7 Starter supports less features than any other edition, it requires less system resources. It is typically found pre-installed on netbooks.
- limit: three concurrent applications, home group join only, Backup and Restore Center manual to local HDD or DVD only
- not included: Aero theme
- not changeable: desktop wallpaper and visual style
- not supported: .NET Framework and 64-bit
If your computer has a weak CPU (minimum 1GHz) and no more than 1GB of RAM, you should go with Windows 7 Starter to avoid a slow system.
This edition is not available in ‘first world’ countries. It was designed for emerging markets and forms an intermediate between Starter and Home Premium. Due to a geographical activation restriction, it can only be activated in countries where it is sold.
- included: Desktop Window Manager, Windows Mobility Center
- unlimited: concurrent applications
- supported: 64-bit, multiple monitors, fast user switching, change of desktop wallpaper
- limit: home group join only, partial Aero theme
You should use this edition as a budget alternative to Home Premium, if it is sold in your country.
This is the standard edition of Windows 7. It was specifically outfitted to satisfy home users.
- included: Windows Aero theme, Windows Media Center, premium games
- unlimited: create and join home group
- supported: multi-touch
Home Premium provides all the functionality required on a daily basis. It puts minor limits on networking and lacks backup and security features, which can however be complemented by additional software.
There is no need to spend extra cash on one of the following editions, unless you must have one of its additional features.
The Professional edition was designed to be used in a work environment. Its additional features compared to Home Premium are not typically required in a home environment. The Professional Backup and Restore Center for example supports backup to a home or business network. Features like Location Aware Printing and Remote Desktop Host recognizes the mobility involved in today’s (professional) life.
- included: Backup and Restore Center, Encrypting File System, Windows Server Domain, Windows XP Mode
- supported: Location Aware Printing, Remote Desktop Host, Presentation Mode
You should invest in Windows 7 Professional if you frequently work from your laptop in different locations, use your computer to give presentations, must access your home computer via remote desktop, have multiple computers, or need to manage a network.
The Enterprise edition is not available to home users. It is exclusively sold to companies that have a Software Assurance (SA) for Volume Licensing contract with Microsoft. This edition comes with several SA-only benefits, including license rights for network booting of Windows or running up to four additional Windows copies on virtual machines. Microsoft support for this product will continue until 2020.
- included: AppLocker, BitLocker Drive Encryption, Subsystem for Unix-based applications, Multilingual User Interface Pack
- supported: BranchCache Distributed Cache, DirectAccess, Virtual Hard Disk Booting
The additional features of Enterprise compared to Professional are relevant for computers running in a corporate environment. They can decrease the freedom each user has, while on the other hand making it easier to work from anywhere in the world.
AppLocker for example is a tool through which an administrator can specify which software is allowed to run on centrally managed user PCs. DirectAccess replaces the need to log into your company network via VPN. A full review of these additional Enterprise and Ultimate features can be found in this Microsoft article: Unique technology for enterprise customers.
Windows 7 Ultimate has all the features of the Enterprise edition and no benefits or further extras. The difference is that individual licenses are available to home users. Windows Anytime Upgrade from Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional is possible. Microsoft support for this edition is scheduled to expire in 2015.
PC World has created a thoroughcomparing all editions of Windows 7.
You may also want to check out this article by Mahendra: How To Choose Between 32-bit & 64-bit Windows 7 Operating Systems
I hope you now have a better idea of what each Windows 7 edition was designed for and which one is right for you. Have you had the chance to work with different Windows 7 editions already? What are your experiences so far with them?