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By | Gavin Clarke 4th February 2009 02:10

Microsoft SKUs Windows 7 clarity

Ultimate fixation

Microsoft has announced how it will package Windows Vista's successor, Windows 7. And as ever, Microsoft has put segmentation ahead of clarity.

The one bright spot in Microsoft's Windows 7 news is that - contrary to some reports - it won't add a brand new edition solely for netbooks. Although even this is not that straight forward.

On Tuesday, the company said Windows 7 would come in six editions: Windows 7 Starter Edition, Home Basic, Premium, Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate.

Not that the news was presented like this. Microsoft led on the fact that "most" customers would be served by "two primary" editions - Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional that respectively target consumer and business users.

This showed Microsoft has become sensitive to the fact that it has confused customers and partners by offering so many different editions of the same version of Windows.

Piecing together what you can expect isn't easy. As it typically does at this stage in the roadmap cycle, Microsoft talked in vague terms of capabilities instead of features. Based on what we can tell (here, here and here), you will get:

Home Basic: This has been glossed over by Microsoft, but reports indicated a continuation of the Windows Vista Home Basic runt and versions of Windows that have been built for developing markets. So, the ability to run up just three applications concurrently and no Aero interface.

Home Premium: This will introduce Aero, Windows Media Center and media streaming.

Professional: Planned features will include group policy-based management tools, Encrypting File System and Location Aware Printing.

Enterprise and Ultimate: You'll get BitLocker data protection, and DirectAccess and BranchCache to connect to networks running Windows Server 2008 R2.

Simple, right? Depends.

It seems that Home Basic will be lobbed into sectors outside of what Microsoft calls "developed technology markets" - which it defines as the US, European Union, Australia and Japan. Customers in these markets are unlikely to see Home Basic. Instead, Microsoft will be happy just to get customers in the "developing technology markets" onto the Windows treadmill, steering them away from Linux or pirated copies of Windows.

In the consumer space, customers outside of developing technology markets will get Premium edition, which Microsoft described as a "full function PC experience and visually rich environment."

Here, things start to look confused - and threaten to unravel for Microsoft.

Windows Wha?

Professional will be for people who work at home and need to connect to a secure corporate network and for small businesses that must manage an IT infrastructure. However, the company's made a fundamental assumption with the Professional edition about the sets of services those working from home or working for small businesses will want.

If such people work from home, outside the security of the corporate office, why wouldn't these customers want BitLocker to secure their machines?

That leads us to Ultimate. According to Microsoft, Windows 7 Ultimate will be for "a very small set of customers who want what everything that Windows 7 has to offer." These customers are "PC enthusiasts" who want features in the Enterprise edition such as BitLocker.

Problem is, Microsoft doesn't do "enthusiast" markets, so what's going on? It sounds more like Microsoft will try to up sell Professional users excluded from the Enterprise edition.

Then there's netbooks.

To its credit, Microsoft's rejected the idea of a separate Windows 7 SKU for netbooks. On Tuesday, Microsoft made the play that the underlying engineering enhancements in Windows 7 meant it would run more efficiently than Windows Vista on these small devices.

And it seems Microsoft believes that's all it'll really take, as it's defined the netbook category as a sub laptop with limited screen and keyboard space that lacks a CD or DVD drive.

And yet, Microsoft will deliver a version of Windows 7 for this market - it's just using a different name: the Windows 7 Starter Edition. Microsoft said the Windows 7 Starter Edition would be "for OEMs that build low-cost small notebook PCs".

Starter Edition will - for the first time - be available worldwide. Before, it could not be sold on PCs in the those "developed" markets of the US, European Union, Australia, and Japan.

And here's where it really gets complicated. Based on what we know about their features at this stage, Starter Edition and Home Edition threaten to tread on each others' toes. Furthermore, there's little to stop Starter Edition spilling out of the OEM-only channel and finding its way onto sites such as Amazon, where you can buy OEM-only versions of Windows.

And that's without the feature and functionality bleed between Home Premium and Ultimate, Professional and Ultimate. ®

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