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Windows 7 Editions: Still Too Many

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windows-7-aurora-green-wallpaperMicrosoft (s msft) has made public their “edition strategy” (my term, not theirs) for Windows 7. While there are still too many editions, at least they make a little more sense, and offer a better overall choice, than what Vista offered.

Paul Thurrott has a write-up on the editions at his Super Site for Windows. He was “critical” of Microsoft for their edition strategy for Vista, and is now a major cheerleader for 7’s set of editions. He believes Microsoft has really simplified things. Lost on Paul is that when a 2,000+ word article is required to outline the various editions, it’s not simple. There are too many versions, but I’ll get to that shortly.

The Windows 7 Edition Lineup

Here’s what will be available when Win7 is released:

  • Starter
  • Home Basic
  • Home Premium
  • Professional
  • Enterprise
  • Ultimate

Whew! Right now you’re thinking, “Six Editions! How can that possibly be simpler than Vista?”. Well, in many ways you’re right, but the editions are better than before, and for a lot of users it’s likely going to come down to just two choices. Let’s take a brief look at each.


This is probably the closest thing to a “Netbook Edition” Microsoft will go. They needed a flavor of Win7 in this market or it would be either XP forever or cede it to Linux. Neither was acceptable, of course, so they have an edition available globally for this purpose.

Its restrictions (e.g., “you can run only three applications at once”) virtually ensure no one will put it on anything other than a low-power netbook, which is just how MS wants it (i.e., you want more, you pay more). Further, it’s for new PCs only (no retail box), so MS isn’t too worried about non-netbook machines making do with this version.

Remember that Microsoft says Win7 has a small enough footprint for Home Premium (or others) to run fine on a netbook. However, I suspect the license price of those editions would keep many netbooks from being “affordable,” a major selling point of that market. Obviously, Microsoft would have no issue with this, but I think Starter is necessary so that truly low-cost netbooks could go with a “modern” Microsoft OS.

Home Basic

This is where Microsoft gets tricky, or greedy, or whatever you want to call it. You need to read towards the end of Paul’s article to even see this one, as he calls it “hidden.” Unlike Starter, this will not be available globally, but rather only in “emerging markets.” I think this is Microsoft-speak for “low-cost PC markets that would otherwise pirate another edition.”

Why not just use Starter for this purpose? I think Microsoft wants to wring every buck they can get out of this. While Home Basic will have to be cheap, I suspect it’ll grab a few more bucks than Starter, which MS targets for netbooks only.

Home Premium

This is one for new PCs and retail box sales. Unlike Starter and Basic, it comes with Aero and most of the other cool visuals/features everyone’s heard of. The features left out of this edition the average user is not likely to miss.


Best thing about this is the name. Yes, calling your software or hardware Pro is the oldest trick in the book, and is more for appealing to the ego of the user than anything else. But it sure beats the heck out of Business as a name.

It also makes sense from a feature standpoint, as Pro includes everything in Home Premium, and then adds, well, “pro” features like Domain Join, Remote Desktop host and Presentation Mode. Like Premium, this edition will be available in retail box and new PCs. Expect “high-end” PCs to come with Pro. It just sounds better. It’ll likely be a pretty popular BTO upgrade as well.


Obviously, a huge market for Microsoft and a way to give discounts to this customer base. Enterprise is basically Ultimate but with volume licensing. You won’t see it on new commercial PCs or in retail boxes.


You see? Even “pros” don’t get everything. I think Ultimate is yet another money grab to wring every last dime outta their market. It’s basically Pro “plus.” Included are such must-haves as BitLocker and Branch Cache.

Ultimate will be available at retail and on new PCs, but the feeling is that it’ll likely just be there as a BTO upgrade option on PCs. Ultimate: When Only Everything Will Do.

What Microsoft Got Right

  • I think Starter makes sense from a netbook standpoint. It puts a current Microsoft OS squarely in the game, even as more expensive netbooks can use higher editions.
  • Each edition is a true superset of the one preceding it. This takes away the confusion of balancing what you gain, say, in Vista Business, with what you lose by not getting Vista Home Premium.
  • They will emphasize Home Premium and Professional, even downplaying Ultimate. Six versions, but they’re going to rely primarily on two, which are solid versions.

What Microsoft Got Wrong

  • I think Home Basic is unnecessary. Again, I see it as a grab for a few more bucks from “emerging” markets. Strip a couple restrictions from Starter and let that be your basic version.
  • Given the above, Home Premium could then be just Premium, which sounds better, and is a nice counter to Professional.
  • Ultimate is unnecessary. Again, a quick grab for a few more bucks. Toss everything into Professional and let Ultimate die. Besides, having a product that admits every other edition is lacking features is kind of stupid, in my opinion.
  • No matter how much Microsoft downplays all but Home Premium and Professional, those other versions are out there, and they will confuse the market. Why go there? Microsoft learned from Vista, but not enough.


In my view, Microsoft should have gone from Starter (global netbooks, emerging country low-cost PCs), Premium (what 70 percent of consumer PCs would come with), Professional (for “pros”, those who want to be, or those who simply want everything), and of course Enterprise (volume discounts on Professional).

It would be much easier to articulate the above versions (because they make sense), instead of clouding the issue with a Home Basic and Ultimate version.

31 Responses to “Windows 7 Editions: Still Too Many”

  1. better late than sorry

    Microsoft Norway claims the following:
    Starter – only for Notebooks
    Home Basic – only for emerging markets, not available in Europe

    The remaining four versions are divided as follows:
    Consumer market – Home Premium and Ultimate as the updated version
    Business market – Professional and Enterprise as the updated version

    They further claim there are no real difference between ultimate and enterprise, only the name.

  2. David Dennis

    I would go Basic (or Netbook), Premium and Ultimate. That’s because “Premium” and “Professional” both sound good and I don’t think the person on the street could tell which is better from the name. Premium is good but Ultimate is clearly better.

  3. To me the final lineup of Windows 7 would be just like:
    – Windows 7 Netbook edition
    – Windows 7 Home edtion
    – Windows 7 Proffessional edition

    Starter? Come on Microsoft! I sounds like a baby Windows 7! A “Windows 7″ that in fact is Windows 2000 with a new skin! Netbook edition? A hole lot better! Now it sounds like this edition has been optimized for working better on small screens and slow CPU-s.
    Home basic? Even if Home premium is…… ok….. Home basic? To me it sounds like a mentally-challenged-optimized-home-premium! If they really want it it could be like Windows Netbook edition plus! Like an upgrade! Home basic? Come on!
    Ultimate? Yeah, it’s ultimate. It’s brand-new. What matters is not how new or freshly-redmond-packed is, it matters the power it packs in! They need to make costumers that know nothing about computers figure out what’s the best without asking a buy assistant! To me Proffessional beats Ultimate! Try imaginating a MacBook Ultimate! What do you imagine? Something new, right? But not necesarilly more powerful than the pro. Something like the pro + some bugfixes. We’re triyng to make people understand that ultimate is the best! Not just something new! To me it”s fantastic how PC-s try to copy all the work Apple did in this years. They now have also iSights. They also have multitouch. HP even incorporated a lame hard drive protection system! Lame because it’s an accelorometer, not a sudden motion detector. It detects slower the motion. As Steve said in one WWDC, there may be copies, but nothing is better than the original! Take that, Microsoft!

  4. Zachary

    i think that windows definitely should just be Starter, Premium, Enterprise, and Professional (or Elite), as they say, but it shouldnt be like Mac, (Win7 Win7 Enterprise) because you want to choose how much you pay. Take for instance, Mac costs so much, and I don’t need all of the features. On the PC, i can choose how much complexty i want and how much mooney i wish to spend.

    WRONG: Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, Ulitmate
    WRONG: Windows 7
    RIGHT: Starter, Premium, Elite, Enterprise

  5. Microsoft need to sort themselves out and simplify their product offering with greater differentiation and clarity between versions pronto if they want to retain any kind of credibility in the long-term. All these ‘Ultimate’, ‘Professional’, ‘Home Basic’ and other names are complete bollocks and confuse and annoy the vast majority of people. It’s not good branding or business, and ultimately they are hurting themselves by continuing down these ridiculous marketing paths.

    There are three clear markets MS could separate out: 1. Mobile and Netbook machines, 2. Home AND Business – this version should be the same damn thing for all users with the same features for everyone, and finally 3. Server. THAT’S IT. Call them Windows Basic, Windows Professional and Windows Server, price them accordingly and get on with it. There is NO excuse or argument for any further versions.


  6. Richard,

    The number is the same, but they are most certainly better than before:

    – Vista Starter is S-L-O-W on a netbook, hence them all running XP (or Linux). 7 Starter will change that (for that matter, Home Premium reportedly runs acceptably on netbook hardware as well).

    – Vista Home Premium and Business made you give up features to go from one to the other. 7 Home Premium is a subset of the new 7 Professional (there is no Business), so if you move to Pro you get everything in Premium in addition to new features.

  7. Had you done a bit more research, you would have seen that Windows Vista has exactly the same six editions as Windows 7, making them not, as you say, “better than before.”

  8. Windows 7 is certainly Vista. The reason I know is because Steve Ballmer said so! He said that:

    “Windows 7 is Vista, only better!”

    Yes, Windows 7 truly is Vista 2. It’s a better implementation, by far, but it”s still Vista. Vista wasn’t all bad, mind you, just a lot of it. Even though I don’t think for a moment it will replace Leopard, let alone Snow Leopard, it is still the best that Microsoft has achieved in any OS. They copied from OS X, like they did with the new task bar, but they also added to it their own unique touch. I hope Apple does likewise?

    Vista sucked big time; but Windows 7 sucks less, and as such, I will probably add it as a secondary or guest OS when it comes out.

  9. @tom But in fairness there are a lot of things Microsoft does which do not make them money. There are a lot of things Microsoft does which annoy vendors. None of this is new.

    It’s a different model yes, but selling the same thing at different prices for different markets still makes sense. After all, I think most people will agree that with Linux on these cost next-to-nothing notebooks people are going to realise it’s actually pretty good, and they don’t need all the Windows-only crap-ware they thought they did. If that chunk of the market share goes it may not only steal from others, it may be lost forever.

    I don’t see why Dell would complain about getting a discount either, even if it’s just on part of their range. It’s still a discount and it’s there to “help Dell make the margins on the latest and greatest emerging market”. Obviously the reality is that it’s there to keep people using Windows on every platform.

    To your second point: Microsoft and Adobe among many others give away software every day. When you price software as insanely as these guys do you know you are driving millions of people to pirate your product, not buy it. That’s Adobes business model (drive the kids to pirate, learn it, get a job using it and force the boss to buy it). It’s called “taking one for the team”. If you can afford to give 1 million copies away for netbooks then people will want another million copies at low cost for their desktops and another million at insane cost at work because it’s just easier when it’s all the same.

    That’s how I look at it anyway. It’s the Wil Shipley marketing tactic and it’s working pretty well so far.

  10. PoBoy, I don’t remember where I saw it, but the decision to call it Home Premium was because they determined that people thought they were being downgraded from Vista Home Premium to 7 Home.

  11. Tom,
    I generally agree with what you’re saying. My only quibble is that I wouldn’t use the names “Premium” and “Professional” because it’s hard to tell which one of those products should have a greater feature set just based on name. So maybe “Starter”, “Home”, and “Pro” would offer a more clear differentiation?

  12. Matt,

    “Why not offer huge OEM discounts just for netbooks to keep costs down?”

    1) Because people will storm the ramparts with torches and pitchforks knowing you can buy Premium for a cheap machine for a whole lot less than you can for a “real” computer. And those people will not just be consumers. Imagine Dell and HP’s reaction getting a big price break on the very models that earn them the least. The up-sell to Premium works in their interest, too.

    2) Because essentially giving away millions of copies of your crown jewel does not make good business sense. I don’t think “Buy a netbook, get Premium free!” is a sales path Microsoft should go down. It’d be like Apple dropping the entry MacBook to $699. Sure, it’d juice sales, but to what purpose? Market share? Big deal. Where’s the money?

  13. These versions are just about Microsoft maximizing their revenue. Home users won’t stand for being gouged $200 or $300 for an upgrade, but a company won’t have a problem with it.

    And if individuals are going to be confused, that’s great, because then they’ll talk to the nice salesman, who will just happen to expound on all the great things Vista SP2 Ultimate, I mean Windows 7 Ultimate, has to offer…

  14. @tom Again, I think it’s possible to price the “crown jewel” low enough – sometimes you have to consider your markets. Could you sell tea in China for the price you could in the US or UK? No, but you’d sell the same stuff cheaper. Why not offer huge OEM discounts just for netbooks to keep costs down? Call it “incubating emerging markets” or something.

  15. Matt,

    “Since Windows 7 Beta is running so well on netbooks (as, Kevin says), there is no need for a netbook edition like Starter anyway.”

    Here we disagree. Netbooks are traditionally cheap, aided by the fact that they’re either running an eight-year-old Microsoft OS or Linux. Microsoft can’t price the “crown jewel” low enough to remain competitive with Linux netbooks on price (remember, for many people price is the primary reason to get a netbook in the first place). Microsoft wants XP gone (rightfully so), and can’t let Linux take over. Hence, Starter.

    I suspect many Netbooks will have a BTO option of Home Premium (I wouldn’t get a netbook without it), but the low-ball advertised price will likely always be with Starter or Linux.

  16. Has everyone forgotten that there were actually 7 editions of XP? Home, professional, media center, tablet, pro 64 bit, starter, and embedded. It really is the same situation with 7 as it was with XP. Most people will only see Home Premium and Professional. (also, Enterprise really shouldn’t be counted as a separate edition, XP pro had a volume license version that wasn’t considered a separate edition)

    It’s also difficult to truly judge before we know the prices of each edition.

  17. Well said Todd, I completely agree. Then, in those developing countries there is an easy financial fix of discounts on that same version. On “developing platforms” such as netbooks you could also offer a massive discount for OEM. It’s all possible with a single quality product.

  18. Todd Baur

    One time I told my parents I wanted a horse. I had no idea at 8 years old there were many different types of horses. It wasn’t until later on in life I realized my dad bought me a mule. I wondered if he knew too since it was so hard to choose which one was the right one without a two thousand page write up on it.

    I admire Microsoft’s ability to crank out more editions of software than layers of make up Tammy Fae can put on. But this complexity clearly comes at the cost of quality. I think the comments from the Mac community to Microsoft are saying that Apple’s stance on OS X is a clear example of focusing on one great product versus six not so great versions. Sure Microsoft needs to compete in markets where clean water is more important than running Outlook, Word, and printing at the same time. Really though, are the needs that different that the OS can’t figure this out on its own? I mean if OS X can scale from a small music player to a server handling hundreds of thousands of concurrent connections, why can’t Windows 7?

  19. For the best part I agree with you, Tom. If you had to choose between the MS strategy and yours I would choose yours any day. I think the idea of a single OS has something to be said for it however.

    Since the bulk of any MS OS’s in use outside of fortune 500/enterprise are pirated (I would have said outside business, but many don’t have enough licences because they don’t keep track well enough) it would make more sense to have one low cost Ultimate version which was then simply offered at discount in volume licensing. There is no need for a separate product here.

    One size fits all at a decent cost outside of volume licensing has to make more money than a few Ultimate’s, a bunch of OEM Home X’s and a couple of Starter’s. At the end of the day it’s not costing more to give out an “Ultimate” box over a “Starter” box; the code is done (almost).

    Since Windows 7 Beta is running so well on netbooks (as, Kevin says), there is no need for a netbook edition like Starter anyway. If MS want to own that market as well when the machines price them out the market they should just offer a crippled version (with sexy but lightweight interface) for free and see what happens long term.

  20. Gazoobee

    Perhaps a bit off-topic, but I question the choice of desktop backgrounds for this product. the demos we see all over the web use that blue background that makes it look like you are underwater with the light streaming in from above. What kind of a suggestion is that? Use our product and you will sink to the bottom of a lake? Crazy if you ask me.

    The reason I brought this up though is the graphic included with this article “green aurora.” It takes the same theme but makes it look like *murky* swamp water, or dare I say it? Pee.

    While on one level they are nice enough pictures, who on the marketing team thought it was a good idea to focus on images like drowning, being “swamped,” or worse, swimming in pee?


  21. “windows 7 is basically vista and has the same system requirements- so don’t expect it to run on netbooks.”

    Chris, I’ve run two different versions of Windows 7 (Home Premium and Ultimate) on several netbooks and it runs surprisingly well. As fast & responsive as XP but with the new features and interface of Vista.

  22. m$ missed the boat again by insisting on making multiple versions available. also, let’s be realistic, windows 7 is basically vista and has the same system requirements- so don’t expect it to run on netbooks.

  23. ryemac3, Carl,

    Sorry, but I do not agree with Microsoft going with one version. It may be nice, but it would make little sense for them.

    Comparisons to Mac OS X’s versions do not take into account that Apple is a hardware company. They have no problem with a one size fits all strategy because the goal is to have you buy the hardware. MS is a software company, selling “Ultimate” at $129 would likely cause them to go broke. I wrote about this earlier in discussing these company’s OS sales models .

    Further, while Vista could have gone with Premium, Pro, and Enterprise, I believe Win7 needs Starter because Microsoft MUST do something about Linux on ultra-cheap netbooks. Apple can ignore netbooks as a hardware company (too little profit), but as a software company MS cannot. They can’t allow too many people to get Linux on a netbook, realize that it’s not so bad, and then go with Linux again if they “move up” to a more traditional laptop or desktop system.

    I think the four versions (Enterprise isn’t really a version anyway) I outlined would be reasonable. What bothers me is all the Microsoft leg-humpers coming out and defending Microsoft’s move from six editions to… six! Again, MS did a couple of smart things, but they didn’t do the smartest thing of all, which would be to reduce the total editions.

  24. No. They got it wrong. One edition. Period. It’s one reason I switched from Windows to Mac. One box. Leopard. No muss no fuss. Simple choice. I don’t feel cheated. Got everything in one box.