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The secret life of Windows XP versions

cdesai12 Goldie
cdesai12
cdesai12

Joined: 18 September 2004
Posts: 1900

Posted: 27 January 2005 at 9:26pm | IP Logged
The secret life of Windows XP versions

By Paul Thurrott

Wondering why that XP CD can't be used to upgrade your existing Windows install? Or maybe you're using Windows XP Home Edition and you'd like to upgrade to XP Professional Edition, but just don't know how. Good news: Though the differences between the different XP versions and editions that are available now can be confusing, once you know what's going on, you can make informed decisions.

When Windows XP first debuted in October 2001, life was simple. We had just two editions, or SKUs (stockkeeping units) of Windows XP: Home Edition (XP Home) and Professional Edition (XP Pro).

XP Pro, as you might expect, is a superset of XP Home. That means that XP Pro includes all of the features in XP Home, and adds its own unique features. That feature differential, apparently, is enough to justify the $100 cost differential between the two products.

A look at XP Home and Pro product versions

There was — and still is — one little bit of complexity added to this scheme. Both XP Home and Pro themselves have always come in various product versions. The following versions are available for both XP Home and Pro, unless otherwise noted:

  • Full version. This is the most expensive retail version and it can be used to install XP Home or Pro, from scratch, on a new PC. This is called a clean install. It cannot, however, be used to upgrade a previous Windows version to XP.

    You purchase a Full version of XP Home or Pro in a retail or online store, and it comes in a box. The Full version includes a product key which allows you to install and activate XP on just a single PC.

  • Upgrade version. The retail Upgrade version, meanwhile, can be used to upgrade an existing Windows version to XP Home or Pro. You can even use the Upgrade version of XP Pro to upgrade XP Home to XP Pro. Finally, the Upgrade version can also be used to perform a clean install.

    However, you must have "qualifying media" in order to perform a clean install with an XP Upgrade version.

    These days, qualifying media typically refers to an original Windows install CD (though not a restore CD, as we'll discuss below), which you'll be prompted for during Setup to ensure you're a legitimate Upgrade customer.

    Like the Full version, the Upgrade version includes a product key which allows you to install and activate XP on just a single PC.


  • OEM version. The product versions don't stop there. PC makers like Dell and HP get so-called OEM (original equipment manufacturer) CDs from Microsoft, which are equivalent to the Full version.

    Some PC makers ship an actual OEM CD with their PCs. However, it's getting more and more common to see a restore CD (again, see below) or a no-CD situation. In the latter case, instead of giving you a CD, the PC maker creates a restore partition on your PC's hard drive.

    Either way, the PC maker typically activates XP for you, and you are not able to use this CD to install XP on a different PC.

    In some cases, you can purchase OEM versions of XP directly from online shops. However, legally speaking, you're only supposed to be able to get this type of CD with a piece of hardware (typically a PC), so you'll sometimes see it bundled with a hard drive or other similar device.


  • Restore CD. While not strictly a formal XP version, so many PC makers supply this type of CD to customers that it's become one of the most common ways in which to acquire XP.

    A restore CD is an OEM CD that's been modified by a PC maker in two ways. First, it includes all of the hardware drivers and software pre-installs (think shovelware) that a particular PC model needs. Second, it's been configured in such a way that it will restore your PC to its original shipping configuration.

    Thus, a restore CD cannot be used to install XP on a different PC, which is its primary appeal to both Microsoft and the PC makers.

    As noted above, some PC makers substitute a restore partition for a CD, though they often supply a way for you make your own restore CD or CD set.


  • Volume-licensed version. This version is supplied to large corporations which purchase Microsoft software in bulk, at a lower cost per machine.

    Typically, a corporation will only receive a single CD, which they may duplicate as needed. In such a case, the corporation is given multiple product keys, so that they can install and activate Windows on as many PCs as needed.

    In the future, additional licenses — each with its own product key — can be purchased as well. XP Home is not available via a volume license
    .

XP expands into new markets

By the end of 2002, Microsoft had expanded the XP product family to include two new OEM product editions: Windows XP Media Center Edition, and Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Originally, these editions were pretty clear cut, but as time has gone on, and each has been updated to newer versions, the distinctions between each XP product edition has become less obvious.

Today, there are several XP editions, which we'll examine below.

  • XP Home. XP Home Edition is the base XP system, if you will, and the one on which all other versions, ultimately, are based. It includes much of the functionality most users would need and is not artificially limited with respect to memory or disk size usage when compared to XP Pro.

    On XP Home, the default administrator account is named Owner, and not Administrator, as it is on all other modern Windows versions.

    XP Home only supports two user types, Owner (Administrator) and Limited User. Since Limited User is almost useless in real-world use, most XP Home users inevitably run their PCs as Owners. This has security implications, which Microsoft hasn't faced up to, since viruses can easily install themselves when the user is running with full administrator privileges at all times.

    XP Home does not support multiple processors, but it does support the Hyper-Threading feature found in newer Intel microprocessors. XP Home is available in retail Full, retail Upgrade, OEM, and restore versions.


  • XP Pro. XP Pro is a superset of XP Home and includes a number of important features not found in XP Home. Some of these features, like the ability to logon to a Windows domain, are aimed only at businesses. But some might be important to power users, and for this reason, I recommend XP Pro over Home for most Windows Secrets readers.

    Unique features in XP Pro include Remote Desktop, which lets you remotely connect to the system via a terminal services-type connection; support for two microprocessors; support for Automated System Recovery (ASR), an advanced backup feature; the IIS Web server; and file and folder encryption. (For the full details about the differences between XP Home and Pro, check out my on the SuperSite for Windows.)

    XP Pro is available in retail Full, retail Upgrade, OEM, restore, and volume-licensed versions.


  • XP Pro x64 Edition. Designed to run on so-called x64 hardware (that is, PCs based on AMD Athlon 64 or Opteron, or Intel EM64T-based Xeon or Pentium 4 chips), XP Pro x64 Edition is a fully 64-bit capable version of XP Pro.

    There are only a few differences between this product and XP Pro. First, XP Pro x64 supports up to 32 GB of RAM, compared to just 4 GB for XP Home and Pro. Second, XP Pro x64 jettisons some legacy networking protocols like NetBEUI and AppleTalk, and is not compatible with 16-bit Windows and DOS applications (it is, however, compatible with 32-bit Windows applications). Finally, because it is based on a new architecture, XP Pro x64 cannot use 32-bit XP hardware drivers, but must instead use native x64 drivers.

    XP Pro x64 will ship sometime in mid-2005 and will be available only with new computers, and via volume licensing.

    Microsoft says it will offer a trade-up program to customers who purchase x64 hardware today with 32-bit XP, so they can easily upgrade to the new system when its available. For more information about this XP version, check out .


  • XP Media Center Edition. Aimed at the living room, Windows XP Media Center Edition has evolved dramatically since its original release. The latest version, XP Media Center Edition 2005, is largely identical to XP Pro but lacks a few crucial features, such as the ability to log on to a domain and store passwords for Web sites. (You can restore the former functionality if you don't mind tinkering with the Registry. has the somewhat convoluted instructions.)

    What differentiates XP Media Center Edition from XP Pro, really, is that it's sold only with new Media Center PCs and is designed to be connected directly to a television set.

    To facilitate this experience, this version of XP includes the gorgeous Media Center interface, which can be controlled via a remote control. Media Center includes television recording capabilities, animated photo slideshows, and other multimedia-related functionality.

    Though it is technical available only with a new PC, online resellers such as Directron have taken advantage of loopholes in Microsoft's licensing to offer the OEM version . So, if you're interested in building on your own Media Center PC, you can now do so. Don't forget the .


  • XP Tablet PC Edition. A true superset of XP Pro, XP Tablet PC Edition includes everything in XP Pro. But it also includes unique features designed specifically for a new generation of portable computers called Tablet PCs. These features include a user interface that is optimized for pen/stylus control and applications like the Tablet Input Panel (TIP), which let you input handwritten text into applications that don't normally support handwriting.

    XP Tablet PC Edition also includes a few handwriting-savvy applications, like Windows Journal, for note-taking, and some games. The latest version, XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, ironed out some wrinkles in the original version and is widely acknowledged to be Microsoft's most capable OS yet for mobile computers.

    XP Tablet PC Edition is only available when purchased with a new Tablet PC.


  • XP Embedded. Since you can't really purchase XP Embedded anywhere, I'll just mention this one in passing. XP Embedded is a componentized XP version that is designed for x86-based devices that need an operating system that is more complex than Windows CE .NET.

    Device makers can configure XP Embedded with just the features they need and build that customized version into their products. If you're a developer looking for more information about this neat product, check out .


  • XP Starter Edition. Launched in late 2004, XP Starter Edition is only available in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia and India at this time. Essentially a stripped-down and simplified version of XP Home with some features removed, XP Starter Edition is aimed at stemming the flood of Linux and pirated Windows versions in developing countries, and is sold only with new low-end PCs in those markets.

    XP Starter Edition is fully localized to the markets it targets, includes a sampling of getting started videos and help, and is designed to appeal to complete new PC users.

    While it does offer Internet connectivity, XP Starter Edition does not support networking, printer sharing, the "Luna" XP user interface, or other features that Microsoft feels would confuse new users.

Conclusion

Confused yet? As you can see, XP ships in a wide range of product versions and editions, and when it's time to upgrade, it pays to know which versions are which.

Things might get even more confusing with Longhorn, if the rumors I'm hearing are true: According to my sources at the software giant, Microsoft is thinking about adding two new editions with the next Windows version. The first, Small Business Edition, would naturally be aimed at small businesses. The second, code-named ber Edition, would combine the functionality of Longhorn Home, Pro, Small Business, Media Center, and Tablet PC Editions into a single, do-it-all product.

In the name of simplification, maybe that's the only version they should sell.

*Anjali* IF-Dazzler
*Anjali*
*Anjali*

Joined: 13 August 2004
Posts: 4673

Posted: 28 January 2005 at 5:11pm | IP Logged
wow--lots of editions.  Thanks for the info, cdesai! Smile
HUMM IF-Dazzler
HUMM
HUMM

Joined: 06 November 2004
Posts: 2927

Posted: 28 January 2005 at 9:14pm | IP Logged
.. a very confusing work by microsoft....ConfusedConfused
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