Windows 7 Editions: Still Too Many

windows-7-aurora-green-wallpaperMicrosoft 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.

Starter

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.

Professional

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.

Enterprise

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.

Ultimate

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.

Conclusion

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.

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