MANY SOURCES are reporting that Microsoft will release at least six different versions of Windows 7, whenever it finally hits the streets.
After the customer confusion that ensued following Microsoft's release of multiple versions of Windows Vista, including a consumer class-action lawsuit about low-end PCs that were confusingly labeled as 'Vista Capable' but actually were unable to run the full version, some observers are perplexed that Microsoft seems to be repeating that same marketing mistake as it rolls out Windows 7.
It certainly appears that it risks alienating more of its customers by sowing confusion and creating the impression that it's mostly interested in extracting the most money possible out of everyone for this next release, while desperately trying to maintain market share.
The six versions of Windows 7 that the Vole has said it plans to release are as follows.
The Starter edition will be available worldwide. As the name suggests, it will be aimed mostly at netbooks and other low-end machines. Users will be limited to running only three applications at a time, not counting background processes. The Starter version will include the new Apple OSX lookalike Windows 7 taskbar, but without the live preview feature, and networking capabilities will be relatively primitive.
The Home Basic version will only be available in emerging markets, and will also target netbooks and lower powered desktop and laptop systems. It will be an analogue of Vista's Media Center edition, having limited GUI features to include the Windows 7 taskbar, with live preview, but without the full Aero Glass interface or windows navigation and touchscreen features. It will also have Internet connection sharing and wireless networking capabilities, plus laptop power management.
The Home Premium edition will be the version aimed at most consumers. It will include the Aero Glass interface with all its eye-candy, windows navigation and touchscreen features, as well as full media format support including streaming. However, it will lack many of the features of the Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate versions.
The Professional version will target most small business users. It will have all the features of the Home Premium edition and will also include an encrypted filesystem capability, a network backup feature, and additional Microsoft networking and printing functions.
The Enterprise edition will only be available to corporate accounts. In addition to all of the Professional version features, it will also include Microsoft's own data and application security, plus corporate networking capabilities to connect to Windows Server 2008 R2.
The Ultimate version will only be available as an upgrade, and will include most of the features available in the Enterprise edition, probably without the corporate networking.
It seems easy to foresee that many netbook and low-end PC buyers will end up with the Starter or, in emerging countries, Home Basic versions of Windows 7, and that many of them will become disappointed once they figure out that what they have doesn't include all of the fancy Windows 7 features in the Home Premium and Professional editions. Easy to foresee, that is, unless you're Microsoft, apparently.
Thus the Vista Incapable consumer lawsuit might conceivably be replayed for Windows 7.
The Vole has indicated it expects that most consumers will opt to buy the Home Premium edition, while most business users will either choose the Professional version or, in large corporations, the Enterprise version. Rather strangely, it seems to regard the potential market for the Ultimate edition as a limited niche constituency of technical power users.
Maybe that's because it plans on charging an arm and a leg for the Ultimate version, or perhaps it reckons that most technically-adept power users have already moved to Linux.
Windows XP and Vista users who want to upgrade to Windows 7 will have to back up all their data and run full installs, then reload their data. That might prove problematic for many users, unless the Vole provides a click-and-drool type software tool to help users to get through those tasks, supporting the learned helplessness it has fostered in them over the years. It's likely that some people will lose all their saved data in the upgrade process.
The Windows 7 beta released last month reportedly includes all of the features that will be included in all final versions. That can't help but aggravate some users who are testing the beta release, once they finally realise that they'll have to shell out for the most expensive Ultimate edition to get all the features they will have been learning about and playing with for months. Some might keep the beta release, only to be locked out of security updates.
There will be more than six versions of Windows 7, as well. Since all editions except the Starter version will be offered in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavours, there will be at least 11 distinct versions. That'll be fun for the PC OEMs and consumers to cope with, certainly.
In the EU, which has already required Microsoft to offer its Windows OS without Media Player (MP) bundled, there will be 22 versions. And if the EU further requires Microsoft to unbundle Internet Exploder (IE), as is beginning to look likely, the number of EU versions will jump to 44 - 11 versions with both MP and IE, 11 versions without MP but with IE, 11 versions with MP but without IE, and 11 versions without either MP or IE. That'll be even more fun.
Microsoft hasn't yet released projected prices for its many planned versions of Windows 7, but it's already starting to look a lot like the Vole can bungle this OS release much like it did with Vista. µ
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