Since the days of Windows XP (and technically, even before), Microsoft has been in the habit of releasing multiple versions of Windows at different price points. You may never have thought about what version of Windows to get with a new computer, but when buying a system that you may be using in a work environment, it’s worth considering which edition of Windows you’re picking up with it.
What follows is a basic overview of what you’re up against. This is exclusively for Windows 10, but previous version of Windows used similar categorization, so it should still work as a rough outline.
HOME OR PROFESSIONAL
The biggest decision you’ll have to make when purchasing Windows 10 is what edition, you want. The difference isn’t very noticeable, but it is tremendously important. The rule of thumb is; if you’re going to use the system for work related purposes, you want professional. The Home addition has a lot of the basic functions you’d expect from Windows built in, like Microsoft Edge, File Explorer, and Cortana, and can run most of the programs you’d expect it to, but it’s limited in terms of what kind of networking you can do.
The biggest drawback is that you can’t join it to a domain, which means that if you want to work in an environment that uses one, you’ll need to constantly put in your username and password for that domain, and you won’t be able to keep persistent file shares. It also lacks features like Group Policy and Remote Desktop, which can be really limiting within a business environment, and makes it nearly impossible to connect into a terminal or remote desktop server.
THE S IN EDUCATION
Lastly, you might run into Windows 10S, which is a stripped down version of the OS intended for educational purposes and tablets. We talked about it on the blog here before, but less than a year later, it’s being discontinued by Microsoft in favour of a new “S” mode being built into standard Windows.
Then there’s Enterprise edition, which is typically only available through volume licensing contracts with Microsoft, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever find it in a store. It contains even more security features than Professional, as well as a lot of virtual machine and remote app settings. Generally, it’s stuff that only your IT department would care about.
Finally, there’s Education edition, which is pretty similar to Enterprise, but only slightly scaled back and open to schools and students only. Again, there aren’t many features that a typical end-user would care about.
BITS AND BYTES
64-bit desktop processors have been a thing for about a decade-and-a-half, and have for many years been the standard for new systems, but for whatever reason, you can still by Microsoft Windows in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. There’s very little reason to buy 32-bit Windows in these days, as the 64-bit flavor is fully backwards compatible with 32-bit programs.
The biggest problem you’ll run into if you somehow wind up with a 32-bit version of Windows is the amount of RAM you can install into your computer. 32-bit Windows can only address 4GB of RAM, which is insufficient for most people these days. Typically, you want at least 8GB and ideally 16GB. Technically, 64-bit processors can support 16 exabytes of RAM, but even if you could somehow slot that into your workstation, Windows isn’t that sophisticated. Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise 64-bit can get you to 512GB, which would still be impressive if you managed to put something like that together.
PAIN OF GLASS
So, what version of Windows is right for you? When in doubt, always go for 64-bit Professional. The price difference isn’t tremendous, and while you may not need some of the features, they’re not intrusive and if you ever want to do work on them, features like Remote Desktop are sometimes necessary. Even if you do wind up with the Home edition, and find that you need some of the features of the Professional edition, an upgrade can be unintrusively performed through Microsoft’s online storefront for a price, so at least it’s not as tricky as it was in previous versions of Windows.