It's not what's been left out that's the problem with Vista Home Basic: it's what has been left in. Some of the features are horribly watered-down.
No-one expects Vista Home Basic to tick every box on the menu. That would defeat the purpose of having a relatively low-priced version of Vista to woo budget-minded upgraders and help PC makers deliver systems well under the $1000 mark.
Indeed, Microsoft's own marketing breakdown of the Vista editions, which shows broad feature categories, only gives Home Basic a tick in two out of ten boxes.
But while Microsoft has been quite open about what's in and what's not (and its desire to sell Premium editions instead), there are some odd exclusions.
For example, Windows Movie Maker and DVD Maker don't make it into Home Basic, despite DVD burners being standard on every PC this side of a $2 shop.
More suspicious, of course, is that that Home Basic can't run the Aero Glass UI, even if the PC is suitably equipped with WDDM-supported graphics (this includes some integrated graphics chipsets, such as Intel’s 945G/GM Express and Core 2 Duo 965 Express) and backed by enough RAM.
This is, of course, nothing more than deliberate 'de-featuring' which tweakers will no doubt quickly disable with a little Registry mischief.
But the area likely to cause most head-scratching are the murky grey waters where a feature is only partially available in Home Basic.
After all, it's fairly easy to determine if a feature isn't there at all – it's nowhere to be found on the Start menu.
Yet three of Home Basic's components – Backup, Mobility Centre and Meeting Space – are present in an oddly stripped-down form which we expect will lead to confusion among people running different versions of Vista.
For instance, you could end up quite frustrated when fulfilling your role as technical advisor and help desk to a friend, family member or workmate who unbeknownst to you is running Vista Home Basic while you give instructions based on your copy of Home Premium or Ultimate.
Vista's Windows Backup feature appears in all flavours of the OS, but the Home Basic edition lacks the ability to set a backup schedule that will automatically run a backup. (We'd have thought that the most basic users were the ones with the most critical need for a hands-free weekly backup.)
|Vista Backup: Uses of Vista Home Basic get the new Windows Backup, but not the automatic scheduling that's in HomePremium and above
Curiously, neither of the Home editions (Basic or Premium) include the Windows Complete PC Backup, which is a Ghost-like utility for creating a complete disk image.
We at first thought that the reason for this was that Complete PC Backup saves images in the Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format used by Virtual PC, and thus requires the ability to run a Virtual PC session in order to restore the image. Virtual PC in turn is bundled only into Vista Enterprise and Ultimate, in the form of a single-session Virtual PC Express.
But Complete PC Backup is also found in Vista Business edition, which indicates that a VHD image file can be accessed without the explicit need to start a Virtual PC session.
Another quirk of the cut-down Home Basic build is the Mobility Centre, which is intended to aggregate all notebook-centric features into a single control strip. Home Basic lists its version of the Mobility Centre as being 'limited', which doesn't say much.
|Vista Mobility Centre: Laptops loaded with Vista Home Basic get everything but the Presentation Settings control applet
The sole difference turns out to be that Home Basic's Mobility Centre is missing the Presentation applet. This lets you tweak system settings to change the wallpaper, disable the screensaver and change or turn off the volume for when you're running a PowerPoint presentation. It's far from a crucial oversight – but given the number of students using laptops and doing PowerPoint presentations to their class, and when you consider how many have to buy the most affordable notebook they can get (one that's probably running Vista Home Basic), this does seem a fairly arbitrary exclusion.
The final member of this part-time trio is the Windows Meeting Space applet for holding 'virtual meetings' using wired or wireless networking (the later running in 'ad hoc' mode). Once again, the capabilities of the Meeting Space to see and share documents and collaborate on editing would appear as equally suited to students working on a joint project as to businesspeople.
|Meeting Space: Running Visa Home Basic? Then you can see the meeting but you can't take part. So just sit there in the corner and be quiet!
But while Home Basic users can join a Meeting Space session, they do so in 'View Only' mode – the can't actually participate in the meeting, only stand with their nose pressed against the glass while everyone else has all the fun.