Assuming you've got a wodge of cash burning a Vista-sized hole in your pocket, you're going to want to know which version to buy. As ever it's not as simple as just buying Windows Vista. In fact there are three main retail packages available to buy: Vista Basic, Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate. For businesses Microsoft has two principal options - Business and Enterprise – both of which omit the main home entertainment elements such as Media Center, Movie Maker and DVD Maker from the mix making them less appropriate for home use.
Home Basic, is the cheapest option (around £52 upwards for an OEM copy). But to be honest I don't know why Microsoft bothered. It's missing so many of Vista's shiny new features that calling it an upgrade is bit of an affront. With Basic, for example, you don't get to experience Vista's cool Aero glass effects or animations, you don't get Media Center, there's no facility to run scheduled or network backups, and neither do you get Flip 3D or those rather natty taskbar and Alt-Tab previews. The list doesn't stop there though. Basic is also missing the DVD authoring feature, HD support in Windows Movie Maker, Tablet PC is missing and so is the fully functioning version of Meeting Space.
Essentially, Vista Basic isn't a huge improvement over XP. If you are going to put yourself through the hassle and bother of upgrading your operating system, you might as well get as much of an upgrade as you can for your money, and that means plumping for either Home Premium or Ultimate.
Which of these two to choose is a more difficult question to answer. For my money, Home Premium offers the best balance between features and price. Ultimate has every home and business feature all in one package. But of the features it does add over Home Premium, most are the sort you are not likely to miss. The most significant are Bitlocker - whole drive and file encryption in conjunction with a TPM chip, the Windows fax software, remote desktop and the shadow file feature mentioned in the section on security above.
Better still, you can pick up an OEM copy of Premium for around £65, which is only about £13 more expensive than Vista Basic. Ultimate starts from around £114 for an OEM copy, a significant leap in price.
If you're confident in your ability to fix the odd problem by searching Web forums and the like, I wouldn't bother with the retail packages. They're a lot more expensive (PC World is currently selling Home Basic for a whopping £179.99, Home Premium for £219.99 and Ultimate for £369.99), and the only significant omission is the lack of technical support from Microsoft. I'm not knocking the provision of technical support here, just the price of it, which at these prices smacks of exploitation. Frankly, you might as well go and buy a new PC with Vista already installed on it.
Neither would I advise buying the cheaper upgrade package. Due to reasons only known to Microsoft a Vista upgrade requires a working version of XP to be running on your PC – you can't simply feed the machine with an XP CD and product key to validate the install as you could with the Windows 98 to XP upgrade. This means that if you ever want to do a fresh install, format your hard disk and start anew, you'll have to install XP first, then run the upgrade again.