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Which version of Windows 10 should you buy?

Which version of Windows 10 should you buy?


Answer: whichever one Microsoft will give you for free

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Microsoft is positioning Windows 10 as "the last version of Windows" you’ll ever need to get, with regular feature updates and product improvements taking the place of big releases every couple of years. But that means that you’ll need to do the traditional "which version of Windows should I buy" dance one more time. Fortunately, your options for buying Windows 10 are a lot simpler than they were in the Windows Vista and Windows 7 days. As it did with Windows 8, Microsoft will offer four versions of Windows 10: Home, Pro, Enterprise, and Education.

Before getting into the differences between these four options, it’s worth remembering that Windows 10 will be offered as a free upgrade to anyone running Windows 7 or newer (you'll have to make sure your Windows 8 install is updated to 8.1, though). It’ll match up as closely as possible with whatever you’re running — for most of you, it’ll probably mean you’re getting an upgrade to Windows 10 Home or Pro.

Read next: Our Windows 10 review.

If you’re buying a new machine or a fresh retail copy of Windows 10, the choices are nearly as simple — if you’re an individual buying a copy of Windows 10, you’re again getting either Home or Pro. Enterprise and Education are limited to institutional buys — so while many of you readers will likely encounter those versions of Windows, they aren’t ones you’ll actively set out to purchase.

Fortunately, the days of way too many different Windows options are behind us

For most users out there, the answer is easy: pick up the $119 Home version and don’t look back. It comes in both 32-bit and 64-bit editions and features the main new features and services that Microsoft has been promoting, including Cortana, Continuum, the biometric "Windows Hello" security feature, and — of course — the new Edge browser.

Stepping up to Windows 10 Pro (priced at $199) does get you a decent set of additional features for your $80, which power users will certainly appreciate. Among them is the Bitlocker disk encryption feature, Hyper-V for virtualizing different operating systems on your Windows 10 machine, the ability to join Active Directories (a big feature for business users), and a number of additional features. Windows 10 Pro also supports the ability to set your machine as a Remote Desktop host — if you’re using 10 Home, you’ll be able to join other host computers, but you won’t be able to set your machine as a host itself.

A pretty easy question for most users

For the most part, though, Windows 10 Pro feature is really only necessary for power users or people with clearly defined business needs — those people who probably already know exactly what features 10 Pro will include and whether or not they need them. For everyone else, Windows 10 Home is probably the way to go — and if you later decide you need to upgrade to Pro, you can do so for $99. But if you have an older computer, just make sure that you get the free copy of Windows 10 that is likely coming your way. As long as you’re not one of those poor souls running Windows Vista, that is.