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How Windows 7's SKUs compare with Windows XP's editions

Are you perplexed by the various editions of Windows XP and Windows 7? Our Windows expert clarifies the differences.

There are many more IT admins pushing to move from Windows XP to Windows 7 than there were from Windows XP to Windows Vista. As a result, there's confusion about which stock-keeping units (SKUs) of Windows map to which versions of Windows 7, and which features exist in parallel.

Furthermore, both of these Microsoft operating systems (OSes) have versions that don't map to each other or that are intended for extremely specific markets and aren't relevant to most IT professionals. To help clear things up, I've examined how Windows XP and Windows 7 SKUs map to each other. As a rule of thumb, you should always consider a Windows 7 SKU to have a bigger feature set than its corresponding Windows XP SKU.

The editions

  • Starter Edition. Windows 7 has a Starter Edition, but in the U.S., it's typically available only as a preloaded item with netbook-style PCs. An existing XP Starter Edition user will most likely never upgrade to Windows 7 Starter Edition -- not just because Starter Edition isn't sold commercially, but because no direct upgrade path exists between Windows XP and Windows 7.
  • XP Home Edition. The most direct parallel to Home Edition in Windows 7 is Home Premium. Windows 7 also has a Home Basic edition, but it's not available in all markets and it's missing some of the features of Windows 7's Home Edition, like Home Groups, full support for the Aero interface and Windows Media Center.
  • Media Center Edition (MCE). The feature set for MCE was rolled into Vista's (and Windows 7's) Home Premium and Ultimate editions. No standalone Windows 7 MCE edition exists.
  • Professional Edition. Windows XP's Professional Edition also maps directly to Windows 7 Professional, which includes a few more features such as full-system backup and restore (and works with a home network).
  • Ultimate/Enterprise Edition. No version of XP maps directly to Windows 7 Ultimate or Enterprise, although many of the features found in Ultimate/Enterprise are in XP Professional. Therefore, moving from XP Professional to Windows 7 Ultimate/Enterprise is an upgrade, and not just a parallel migration.

Note: Special editions of both XP and Windows 7 exist without Windows Media Player ("N" Edition), but they are offered for the sake of compliance with regulatory bodies, don't come at any discount and aren't crucial to understanding these SKUs.

More tips on upgrading to Windows 7 from XP

Converting from Windows XP to Windows 7

Windows XP Mode eliminates compatibility issues in Windows 7

Find more info in our Windows 7 learning guide

Another major difference between Windows XP and Windows 7 is that all versions of Windows 7 (except for the Starter Edition) are also available in 64-bit editions. The only version of Windows XP ever offered in a 64-bit edition is Windows XP Professional.

To be precise, XP Professional had two 64-bit editions: one for Itanium processors ("Windows XP 64-Bit Edition") and one for the more common x86-64 instruction set ("Windows XP Professional x64 Edition"). No editions of Windows 7 have been produced for Itanium, although Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 have been released for the Itanium 2 processor.

Serdar Yegulalp has been writing about personal computing and IT for over 15 years for a variety of publications, including (among others) Windows Magazine, InformationWeek and the TechTarget family of sites.

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