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How many flavors will Windows 7 come in?

Recent beta suggests five versions, but Microsoft says the number is undecided as yet

By Eric Lai
January 28, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Windows Me may not have had much going for it, but it has one claim to fame: It was the last major release of Windows to come in a single edition, or SKU.

In the ensuing decade, every major release of desktop Windows has come in a wide -- too wide, say many -- variety of flavors.

By one count, Windows XP and Vista came in eight separate editions, if you include two Windows Media Player-free versions mandated by the European Union for antimonopoly reasons.

Even Windows 2000, often romanticized for its small footprint, came in four versions.

This increase in Windows editions has bewildered many consumers, and has led even ardent Windows fans to make dark jokes.

"I wonder whether Windows 7 will have 700 SKUs or if [Microsoft] will streamline that," Andrew Brust, a technology consultant and Microsoft MVP, has said on his Twitter page.

Paul Thurrott, a well-known Windows blogger, said, "It is laughable. It's such a brazen play on their part to juice people for as much money as they can get."

This MBA textbook-style attempt to maximize revenue by divvying up features by customer segment is actually hurting Microsoft, said Rob Enderle, an independent analyst.

He said Microsoft's decision to strip Active Directory features from consumer versions of Vista meant that workers running Macs at home or on personal laptops have an easier time hooking up to their corporate network than many Vista users.

That is helping Apple gain the foothold in the enterprise it has long been denied, Enderle said.

"In effect, this screwy SKU thing has given Apple an advantage in enterprises that Microsoft has taken away from itself and probably will be one of the primary things slowing Windows 7 adoption" should it come in multiple editions, he said.

Will Windows 7 continue the 'SKU inflation'?

How many editions will Windows 7 come in? Recent beta releases of Windows 7 list five versions during the installation process:

  • Starter Edition, a stripped-down version for customers in developing countries running underpowered hardware that has been around since XP.
  • Home Basic, the controversial low-end consumer flavor introduced with Vista that Microsoft apparently debated whether or not to release.
  • Home Premium, also introduced with Vista.
  • Ultimate, introduced with Vista, the loaded-with-goodies version aimed at hard-core hobbyists.
  • Business, introduced with Vista as the replacement to Professional for corporate use.

A Microsoft spokeswoman confirmed the five version names in the Windows 7 beta, but said they were only "preliminary."

"We will continue to take customer feedback from the beta test period into account as we refine the SKU set for Windows 7 and will share more information when we are further along the development path," the spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

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