Half-dozen Vistas cleared by Redmond

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Microsoft will sell six different versions of its soon-to-be released Windows Vista operating system.

The company officially announced its upcoming Vista product line this weekend, including three different versions for consumers, Vista Home Basic, Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate. The company plans to offer two choices for businesses, Vista Business and Vista Enterprise. The final version, Vista Starter, is a limited-feature option that Microsoft will only offer to those in emerging markets.

Some experts said that this announcement demonstrates Microsoft's commitment to tailor OS feature sets to its wide user audience.

"Microsoft has made more of a demarcation of versions around features and capabilities," said Joe Wilcox, analyst for Jupiter Research. "If you look at Professional and Home, the major difference was networking. Now with the new line-up there is a fair bit of differentiation around features."

The differentiation is pronounced when it comes to Vista Enterprise, which will only be offered to customers who are signed up through Microsoft's Software Assurance and Enterprise Agreement programs. In its weekend announcement, Microsoft touted Vista Enterprise's ability to run UNIX applications unchanged, as well as its improved virtualization capabilities. The company also pushed Vista Enterprise's BitLocker technology, which will allow users to encrypt data on an entire drive to prevent the types of data breaches that occur when mobile devices are misplaced in public places.

Microsoft has been working to improve security across the entire Vista family, said Wilcox. Those features that should be of most interest to information security specialists will be the improved control over user rights, he said.

"With respect to security, Microsoft is introducing a number of new security features," Wilcox said. "I expect the most largely impactful will be the rights management. The rights will be more granular than with previous versions, and that can act as a buffer with certain types of security problems."

Wilcox also pointed to improved support for biometric devices as a key area of interest for Vista's potential business users. Additionally, he said that the security of the underlying code for Vista should be an improvement over previous Windows versions.

"Microsoft has bolstered the OS overall with respect to how the code has been written," he said.

In terms of security concerns, Wilcox believes that it is too early to assess any potential problems with upcoming versions of the OS.

"It is too early to say. We are still dealing with beta code, so I won't go there," he said. "Until we see the next (community testing program), we won't be at the point where we can start really evaluating things like security."

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