Seven days of Vista -- day 7: Which Vista version?

The seventh day of Vista was supposed to be our day of rest, but people kept pestering us about all the options -- here's a quick guide

Rory Reid
3 min read

In six days we uncovered Windows Vista's cooler features, and on the seventh day we rested. Or at least we would have, but for the constant pestering from friends and family about how they can go about getting the new OS onto their PCs.

"Buy a copy or get a new PC," we snapped. "But there are, like, dozens of versions. And what if I don't want to scrap my current PC?" they responded, clinging to our heels as we tried in vain to run. It's a good question, though -- so we figured we'd take a look at the available options for our own curiosity. And get you off our backs, of course.

The three easiest methods are to update your current version of XP with a Vista upgrade, wipe your hard drive to install Vista from scratch, or take the coward's way out and buy a new Vista PC. The last option is the easiest, provided you have the cash (you can check out a list of the first Vista desktop PC's we've seen in the UK here). But if you haven't the money or inclination, then upgrading your current PC is the way forwards.

Your first port of call should definitely be the Windows Upgrade Advisor tool -- it analyses your PC and tells you which versions of the OS your hardware will permit. Try to avoid the Home Rubbish Basic edition if you can (£179, or £99 for upgrade). Microsoft says it's secure, and it's definitely easier to use than XP, but if you want to actually feel as if you've got a new OS, complete with the flashiest features, then get the Home Premium (£219, or £149 for upgrade), Business (£289, or £189 for upgrade) or Ultimate editions (£369, or £249 for upgrade). Trust us, or trust this comparison table.

Home Premium is the pick of the bunch for us. It has the hella-cool Media Center interface, Windows DVD Maker, and all the features that make Vista stand out from the increasingly dated XP. We wouldn't bother with the Business version unless you wear a suit to parties, or you want 'complete' backup software and dorky networking functions.

But bear in mind that Business, along with Vista Ultimate, features Windows Movie Maker, which lets you create hi-def home movies. Ultimate also has animated desktops and a subscription to Vista Extras, which lets you download exclusive, free applications as they're released by Microsoft. Whether Ultimate's extra features warrant an extra £150 over Home Premium is your call.

As for upgrading versus fresh installs: we haven't found any significant benefit in doing one over the other, but geekdom as a whole seems to swear by fresh installs every time. We subscribe to this theory, but in the end it's your call -- we've had no problems so far with either method. Vista installed fairly quickly (within 30 minutes) on our test machines.

Our final tip would be to consider buying OEM (original equipment manufacturer) versions of Vista, which are officially intended for system builders. You won't get any fancy packaging or manuals with it, but on sites such as Dabs.com, the consumer version of Ultimate is £239, yet it's just £121.68 for the OEM version -- a saving of £118. Likewise, you can save £66 on Home Premium.

Microsoft says its OEM software isn't intended for Joe Public, and for good reason. Each OEM version of Vista is tied to the motherboard it's first installed on. You can upgrade other bits, but the minute you change your board, you'll have problems. You don't get support, either. If something goes wrong, your first port of call is yourself -- you, the system builder, remember? Vista comes with 90 days of free support, but you'll need to pay for any subsequent help.

Only go the OEM route if you know what you're doing. Or you're really poor.

Alright, enough already. Go forth and enjoy the 'Wow'. -RR