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A field guide to other OS

Knowing how to run Windows on your Mac is one thing. Knowing which Windows version to run is something else altogether.

There are not only four different versions of Windows Vista on store shelves, but also two different versions of Windows XP still available if you know where to look.

Vista and virtualization

If you plan to run Windows through Parallels Desktop for Mac or VMWare Fusion, Microsoft has made your choice of Windows easy. The end user license agreements (EULAs) that come with Vista Home Basic and Vista Home Premium versions specifically forbid you to operate them under virtualization. I’ve found no technical reason why you can’t run these versions of Windows under virtualization, but it’s technically illegal to do so.

The official reason for this restriction is security. Microsoft is happy to let you run Vista Business and Vista Ultimate editions under virtualization, because they include more-robust safety features. Because a Mac running Apple’s Boot Camp is for all intents and purposes a living and breathing Windows PC, Microsoft has no objection to your running any version of Vista on it.

Regardless of which version of Vista you install, Microsoft demands that each installation have its own license. So if you wish to install it in both Boot Camp and a virtualization application, you’ll need two Windows licenses.

What’s the difference?

Roughly speaking, the various Vista editions shake out this way.

Vista Home Basic is just that, a very basic version of Windows that doesn’t include Microsoft’s Aero visual effects and also lacks Windows Media Center, Windows Flip 3D Navigation, Scheduled and Network Backup, Windows Meeting Space, and Tablet Technology. It sells for $199 for a full installation.

Vista Home Premium adds the Aero effect as well as the features and programs missing from Home Basic. Windows Media Center, the major selling point for this edition, enables your computer to act as a television and video recorder. The Mac’s hardware doesn’t support many of these features. Media Center also includes DVD-burning and movie-creation applications, as well as some games. The full installation of Home Premium costs $239.

Vista Business replaces Home’s multimedia capabilities with security, networking, and sharing features not found in the Home versions. Those features include Domain Join, Group Policy support, Encrypting File System (EFS), Corporate Roaming, and Remote Desktop. Microsoft asks $299 for Vista Business.

Finally, Vista Ultimate includes everything found in the three less-expensive versions of Vista plus a few extras—a card game, additional language packs, and more security. Vista Ultimate comes at an ultimate price—$399 for a full installation.

Windows Vista: What You Get

Features Home Basic Home Premium Business Ultimate
Backup: Scheduled Backup X X X
Backup: Windows Complete PC Backup and Restore X X
Collaboration: Windows Meeting Space X X X
Data Protection: Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption X
Eye-Candy and Navigation: Aero effect, Windows Flip 3D, and Live Thumbnails X X X
Media and entertainment: Windows Media Center, Windows DVD Maker, Windows Movie Maker, Chess Titans, Mahjong Titans, Inkball X X
Mobile: Windows Mobility Center, Tablet PC Support X X X
Networking: Networking Center, Remote Desktop X X
Search and Internet: Instant Search, Windows Internet Explorer 7 X X X X
Security: Windows Defender, Windows Firewall X X X X

Do you need Vista?

Vista is unquestionably the future of Microsoft’s operating system. But even PC users who like Windows have been complaining about Vista’s performance. Vista running under Parallels Desktop for Mac is no speed demon and is occasionally unpredictable. It’s better under Boot Camp but still far from perfect.

Windows XP, on the other hand, isn’t half bad, no matter how you run it on your Mac. It’s a more mature version of Windows and therefore less buggy. It’s also less laden with eye candy, so it’s faster than Vista.

XP is also much better than Vista when it comes to virtualization. Because virtualization wasn’t a threat when XP was released many years ago, there’s no provision in the EULA that forbids you to run it under Parallels, Fusion, or whatever else you want to use. And even under virtualization, XP Home, XP Professional, and most Windows applications (save 3-D games and other 3-D-intensive applications, which perform poorly) run at near-native speeds on a modern Intel Mac. People running Boot Camp will find that XP is blazingly fast.—CHRISTOPHER BREEN

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