Windows 7 to be sold in six versions

Microsoft returns to versioning strategy it employed for XP

Looking to answer complaints about the proliferation of Windows flavors, Microsoft Corp. said today that it will generally deploy two primary versions of Windows 7, although it will still offer six editions for sale.

The two main editions will be Windows 7 Home Premium for consumers and Windows 7 Professional for business users.

"The first change in Windows 7 was to make sure that editions of Windows 7 are a superset of one another. That is to say, as customers upgrade from one version to the next, they keep all features and functionality from the previous edition," Mike Ybarra, Microsoft general manager for Windows, was quoted as saying today in a Q&A on Microsoft's PressPass public relations Web site.

That decision represents a return to the version structure that Microsoft used for Windows XP.

As for the decision to focus on just two versions, Ybarra said: "We think those two SKUs will meet most customers' needs."

Home Premium will give consumers "a full-function PC experience and a visually rich environment in everything from the way they experience entertainment to the way they connect their devices," he said. Windows 7 Professional "is the recommended choice for small businesses and for people who work at home but have to operate in an IT-managed or business environment where security and productivity are critical. For those running Windows Vista Business, it will be a very logical move to Windows 7 Professional."

Altogether, the company will still offer six main editions of Windows 7, not including the special "N" versions that lack Windows Media Player, a move mandated for customers in the European Union. That's the same number of versions as in Windows Vista and XP, which both came in six basic editions plus two EU-mandated "N" versions. A

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed that the company will continue to offer "N" SKUs of Windows 7 for the EU but declined to say how many would be offered.

But the Home Basic version that is at the heart of the ongoing "Vista Capable" lawsuits will be exiled to emerging markets.

With Windows 7, the lowest-end version consumers in the developed world will see will be the Windows 7 Starter Edition, which Ybarra said will become available worldwide for pre-installation on new PCs "limited to specific types of hardware." That hardware would include netbooks, according to a separate PressPass Q&A with Brad Brooks, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Windows consumer product marketing.

In addition, there will also be Enterprise and Ultimate versions, which both existed in Windows Vista. Enterprise includes all of Professional's features and then some, and it will only be available to large corporate customers.

Windows 7 DVDs will continue to include the code for all versions of the operating system. That means users with a license for Starter Edition, for instance, can do an "Anytime Upgrade" all the way up to Ultimate by visiting Microsoft's Web site and paying. Users can then upgrade their PCs using the original Windows 7 DVD in a matter of minutes, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft also plans to offer "upgrade" pricing for XP users looking to move to Windows 7, but they will be required to do a "clean install" of the new operating system.

Windows blogger Paul Thurrott applauded Microsoft's strategy, saying it is less about trying to achieve a Mac OS X-like minimalism -- Apple's operating system comes in a single version -- than to create a logical lineup. In Vista, some supposedly higher-end versions of the operating system lacked features that lower-end versions possessed, and vice versa.

"I think that confused people and made them mad," he said. That has been cleaned up in Windows 7, he said, so that each version is a "superset" of the one below it. That means Windows 7 Ultimate will come with every feature, including supposedly enterprise-oriented ones, which was not true in Vista, Thurrott said. Microsoft did not disclose prices for each version. "That's the missing piece," he said. "If Microsoft does the right thing there, with the stinking economy, then this is all good news."

Microsoft has no plans to bring back the Media Center and Tablet editions that were part of the XP lineup, according to Thurrott, who was briefed by Microsoft yesterday. Media Center features, for instance will be available in all versions from Home Premium on up, including business-oriented flavors such as Professional and Enterprise.

Windows 7 Starter will restrict users from opening more than three applications at a time. It will also lack multimedia features such as the Aero Glass user interface, native DVD video playback and authoring, and support for multiple monitors.

Home Basic will actually include more features than Starter, though it too will lack Aero and Media Center and DVD playback, according to a chart seen by Computerworld.

Home Premium includes all of the above features, plus the new Windows Touch support. Professional includes all of Home Premium's features, plus business-oriented networking and security functions, such as file system encryption and group policy controls.

Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate will have identical feature sets, according to the chart.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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