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Is the new ultimate edition necessary or excessive?

Windows 7 -- like previous version of Windows -- comes in several different versions aimed at the retail market.  In Windows 7's case, there's Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate.  Many have noted that while Professional is a definite step up from Home Premium, Ultimate holds little appeal.  So is there more to the story?

There, definitely is, but the picture still isn't that pretty for the Ultimate version.  First there's the price.  An Ultimate upgrade costs $20 more than a Professional upgrade.  However, given that there's no pre-order for the Ultimate edition, it effectively costs $120 more.  A full retail edition copy of Ultimate also costs $20 more.

A $120 price bump for an OS is hard to swallow for consumers, but some nice features might help to sugar coat it.  Ultimate does have eight known extra features more than the Professional edition, which sounds promising -- until you dig into them. 

Three of the features -- BranchCache, Enterprise Search, and DirectAccess are geared for specialized enterprise applications.  In other words most home users, even those who run medium-size personal networks, will find these of little use.  The three most publicly touted features are a full language pack, which includes support for 35 languages, Microsoft Bitlocker, and AppLocker.  The first feature seems possibly useful, but it’s questionable why Microsoft didn't just include it in all the editions.  Bitlocker and AppLocker on the other hand, are little used features from Vista Ultimate which even the most avid Vista Ultimate users would have trouble recalling.

Finally, there's Virtual Desktop Interface and Virtual Hard Drive Booting, two little-touted features that comprise the only real meat that the OS might have for a limited crowd of home users.  The Virtual Hard Drive booting in particular might come in handy as it provides a way to make multi-boot Windows 7 systems using a VHD image with Windows 7 on it.  However, be warned, VHD installs of Windows 7 lack many useful features such as the ability to hibernate.

As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that Microsoft has stated that the Ultimate Edition [may] come with "Unspecified Features".  What these features are is anybody's guess -- perhaps they will provide a compelling reason to go Ultimate. 

Windows General Manager Mike Ybarra has stated in a Microsoft PressPass interview that the Ultimate edition is the OS of choice for "enthusiasts".  He explains, "There is a small set of customers who want everything Windows 7 has to offer.  So, we will continue to have Windows 7 Ultimate edition to meet that specialized need.  Windows 7 Ultimate edition is designed for PC enthusiasts who 'want it all' and customers who want the security features such as BitLocker found in Windows 7 Enterprise edition."

That talk sounds very inspirational, but when "everything Windows 7 has to offer" boils down to a handful of little-used features, the price bump seems questionable.  It seems far more likely that most true enthusiasts will pick the full-featured Windows 7 Professional edition, although a few avid virtualization fans may still pick up Ultimate.

And many customers already feel burned by Vista Ultimate, so the wounds are still relatively fresh when Microsoft touts Windows 7 Ultimate.





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