As the name suggests, Windows 7 Ultimate contains every new enhancement from Home Premium and Professional, along with plenty of additions that only appear in this edition of the OS.
Except, not quite: because Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 7 Enterprise are essentially identical. If you have two Windows 7 PCs in front of you, one running Ultimate and one running Enterprise, the only way you’ll be able to tell the difference is by launching the System screen, where it details which version you’re running.
The key difference is how you buy them. Windows 7 Ultimate is available for anyone to buy, whereas Windows 7 Enterprise is only available to business customers who have signed up to a qualifying Microsoft licensing scheme.
This means that Ultimate includes quite a few features that are more appropriate to businesses than to enthusiasts. AppLocker is a good example. This restricts which applications can run on a network, but as it will only run in conjunction with a server running Windows Server 2008 R2 it’s rather unlikely to find a use in the average home.
Of potentially more use is BitLocker. This offers full-disk encryption, tying in with a Trusted Platform Module installed in many business-focused laptops: activate BitLocker, and the only way anyone can get their hands on your sensitive data is by typing in the correct password (or using biometric recognition, such as fingerprint readers). And if they remove the hard disk from the laptop, there’s no way to access any data on the disk.
BitLocker made its debut in Vista, but new to Windows 7 – and again exclusive to the Ultimate and Enterprise editions – is BitLocker To Go. This permits encryption to be used on USB sticks and other portable devices; while information encrypted on the disk can be read by Windows XP and Vista systems (provided the password has been entered, naturally), only Windows 7 systems will be able to write to the encrypted drive.
There are other technical improvements, too, including DirectAccess to enable seamless connections between mobile users and their office network. It’s also possible to switch your OS between 35 different languages, which isn’t possible in either the Home Premium or Professional editions. Support for booting from Virtual Hard Disks is another benefit Ultimate holds over its lesser brethren, and we explain how to do just that in our article on how to install Windows 7 to a Virtual Hard Disk.
Windows 7: The Full Review
Owners of Windows Vista Ultimate won’t be too surprised to hear that Microsoft has dropped the much-maligned “Ultimate Extras”, the supposedly bonus programs that drew such ire during Vista’s life.
Fortunately, the Ultimate edition of Windows 7 excels in other areas: by including every new feature and enhancement from the other versions of Windows 7 alongside a host of technical improvements, it will please enthusiasts, tweakers and IT managers who aren’t on Microsoft’s licensing ladder.
It’s by no means cheap, however. If you order from PC World today an upgrade will cost £170 inc VAT, while the full version costs around £190 inc VAT. It’s difficult to justify this outlay, which is why most people will be best served by OEM versions when they become available. Nevertheless, if you must have the best version of Windows 7, and have it now, then you won’t be disappointed by Windows 7 Ultimate.