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Ulanoff: Steer Clear of Windows Vista Basic

Windows Vista Home Basic could be the most pointless edition of Windows that Microsoft has ever released.

Let me be clear: I like Windows Vista. I applaud it, in fact. It's the smartest, easiest-to-use Windows OS yet.

Most of the Vista editions Microsoft is rolling out make good, clean sense — Business, Premium, even Ultimate, though that name does kind of box Microsoft in for future versions (could they ever top Ultimate?).

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Home Basic, which drops Tablet PC and Windows Media Center integration along with the Aero interface enhancements, is another story. Here's how Microsoft described it:

"If you simply want to use your PC for tasks such as surfing the Internet, corresponding with friends and family using e-mail, or performing basic document creation and editing tasks, then Windows Vista Home Basic will deliver a safer, more reliable, and more productive computing environment."

I'm sorry, but this simply perpetuates the myth that there's such a thing as simple computing needs.

The "surfing the Internet" part is my favorite. It's as if Microsoft's marketers haven't been online since 2001. Surfing the Internet these days is about as far from basic as you can get.

Web 2.0 has turned many key Web sites into virtual client applications. Yes, these are lighter than, say, true desktop apps, but nowhere near as light and simple as the rudimentary HTML-based pages we recall from the mid-1990s up until, say, 2002.

It's not just coding that's made Web browsing a more complex CPU-intensive task. Virtually all popular sites feature video. News flash, Microsoft: YouTube is perhaps the most popular site on the Web.

Document creation can be a pretty low-stress task, unless you're running the latest version of Microsoft Office. Most recent editions of this app suite eat up tons of processes and, of course, can create highly complex documents.

Most adult home users won't tap into this power, but I can see high school and college students who still live at home creating pamphlets, newsletters, and other more complex files, many of which will incorporate graphical elements such as photos. This doesn't sound that "basic" to me.

Photos and videos are a major part of virtually every PC user's world. Microsoft, you should know that. After all, you helped make it happen. Even our grandparents take digital photos and mail them to loved ones.

What about e-mail? It's a nice, light application, with few resource needs. Isn't it?

Well, maybe 10 years ago. Consumer e-mail boxes are filled with gigabytes of data, HTML messages and, of course, photos (and even videos). And say your e-mails are always text-based and you rarely get much of it; you still can't run e-mail without protection from viruses and spyware.

Each of those apps puts demands on system components and the operating system itself. Suddenly, basic e-mail is looking mighty complicated.

So what's the deal with Home Basic? I do notice that it's about $60 cheaper than the more multimedia-capable Premium Edition. And that's the answer, isn't it? This is for computer manufacturers who want to trim a few bucks off the price of a PC while still appearing to offer the "latest thing."

This is nothing new. Dell, Gateway, eMachines, HP, and others offer value PCs by cutting corners that you can't always see or recognize as detrimental to your computing lives.

So a DVD-R becomes a DVD-ROM drive, or 1GB of memory becomes 512MB, or discrete graphics memory becomes shared. All of these things can add up to hundreds of dollars in savings.

Vista Home Basic falls right into that same bucket. My guess is that manufacturers demanded this version from Microsoft, and it acquiesced because it was still smarting from value vendors dropping MS Office in favor of super-cheap WordPerfect.

So beware, friends, of too-cheap Vista systems. They may be running Home Basic, and that means they may not be ready to fulfill anyone's 21st-century computing needs.

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