Windows 7 editions announced

If you were hoping that Microsoft would cut the number of Windows 7 editions down to just one, you’re disappointed today. But if you’re willing to settle for three, your wishes have come true.

Well, sort of.

I’ve got more details over at ZDNet. (See Microsoft simplifies the Windows 7 lineup.) But here’s the short version:

  • Windows 7 Home Premium is the new entry level, with Media Center and better backup features than the equivalent Vista edition.
  • Windows 7 Professional replaces Vista Business. It includes every feature from Home Premium (Media Center included) plus Remote Desktop host and support for Windows domains. It’s a straight upgrade from Home Premium.
  • Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 7 Enterprise are the same product, with the Enterprise name used for customers who buy in huge volume through Select license agreements.

Windows 7 Home Basic will be available only in emerging markets and will not be sold in the U.S., Western Europe, and other developed countries.

And were you looking for something to run your netbook? In the U.S., the only available downgrade from Home Premium is the severely hobbled Starter Edition, which can run only three programs at a time. (Yes, Starter Edition was previously only available in emerging markets. Now it’s available worldwide, and Microsoft has banished Home Basic to the hinterlands. Go figure.)

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what Microsoft is thinking when it comes to netbooks. But the rest of this seems like very good news, especially the revamped Anytime Upgrade feature, which lets you “unlock” the features for an upgrade in 10 minutes or less, without having to go through the hassle of a full upgrade.

23 thoughts on “Windows 7 editions announced

  1. Ed:
    You are correct that only the three editions you noted matter to most users, but as you know there are several other versions and of course everything is multiplied by 2 due to both 32 bit and 64 bit versions. This is directionally better but still quite complex.

    It is always easier to explain Mac OSes to my clients – one client OS and one server OS.

    Microsoft needs to consider that with Apple’s Leopard surging having too many version of W7 is counterproductive to maintaining/increasing their marketshare.

  2. Richard, what do you mean “there are several other versions”? For someone buying a desktop or notebook PC in the United States, there will be three and only three versions. They will NOT be able to buy Home Basic in the U.S., and Starter will only be on specialized low-end hardware. They will have an absolute maximum of three choices, with no other editions available.

    What are the “several other versions” to which you refer?

  3. @Ed:
    Enterprise is one, and whatever goes on netbooks may be another.

    As a Microsoft Partner I have to know and deal with all the versions and understand the differences, the upgrade paths (if any) and lots of other factoids. It is a significant effort of time and energy trying to keep up with all the versions, the differences and the licensing plans.

    I don’t have these requirements for my Mac clients. It is much simpler for me to provide information and support.

    I think that Microsoft misunderstands and mis-markets to my market, small business and residential, to its peril.

    I like W7, a lot, but I think it is harder for me to sell three flavors of W7 than a single flavor of OS X. Most people are uninterested in the distinctions. They are not consumed by technology as you and I are.

  4. Richard, I suspect you’re being deliberately dense to make a point.

    Enterprise is only available if you have a Select agreement, in which case it is your only installation option. In any other channel, the equivalent product is called Ultimate, and you will not read about or be offered Enterprise.

    The version that could be offered on netbooks is Starter. If an OEM chooses to offer Starter, they will not offer any other SKUs, because the only reason to choose STarter is because other SKUs won’t run on it.

    If your clients find this overly complex, I wonder how they put on their shoes every morning. Most of them just choose whichever version comes with the computer they buy, which for 99% of them will be the right one. Hey, you might even offer them a recommendation if they ask.

  5. Ed is right to be puzzled by the netbook policy. I predict Starter on netbooks will be a disaster. It’s a giant step down from XP Home. And the step-up to Premium is too pricy. Nobody put XP Pro on netbooks.

    If Microsoft wanted to maintain margins by pushing a limited-capability SKU of Windows on netbooks, it should’ve stood firm on XP Home pricing and sold XP Starter Edition instead (oh yes, XP had a Starter Edition too with the 3-program limitation). That was their chance, two years ago.

    With 7, they’re trying to put the cat in the bag, and it’s too late. People are already accustomed to a fully-functioning copy of Windows on netbooks for a 40% discount over regular OEM pricing. If they have any sense, they’ll sell Basic on netbooks (but at regular OEM prices).

  6. If MS had the Apple situation, where pretty much none of their customers are price sensitive, they could just sell everyone Ultimate. Given that they’re dealing with people who buy a $297 Dell because the equivalent HP is $299, they’re stuck with having to offer less costly options.

    Most industries use more choices as a selling feature (think auto, clothing, consumer electronics, and even computer hardware). I don’t get why when it comes to operating systems, people complain about having options.

  7. My experience spans many years and support of several thousand people. The average user doesn’t have any idea of what is included or what is missing from their OS. They don’t know why they might want bitlocker or even Media Center. They use their computers to accomplish tasks. They have other things to do with their lives. Choice in an OS is a headache for the majority of computer buyers. Do they want Vista Home Premium? Do they want Vista Ultimate? Can they downgrade to XP? What’s the difference? Why should they care? This is mind numbing to many.

    They just want it to work. W7 would be better with only one flavor at the retail/direct market level. Simplicity is attractive to many computer users.

    A car is a different thing than a computer. Leather seats appeal to many as an option. BitLocker doesn’t have much curb appeal except to a sysadmin. Many people identify with their cars. The car is a symbol of who they are. This is atypical with Windows users, who do not identify with their machines and even less so with the computer’s OS. As I wrote above, “They just want it to work.”

    In the 2008, I installed 5x as many new Macs as Windows boxes. Price matters but so does people’s perception of the difficulty of using the computer. Apple wins that contest for most consumers. (It doesn’t matter what reality is here, perception is a more significant factor in the sale.)

    I agree that Apple’s customers are less price sensitive, but many buy Macs because they believe it is easier. It appears that W7 will eventually be 5+ or 10+ SKUs. This will not appear easier. It will be more of the same from Microsoft.

    If you want to see how confusing this becomes look at all the SKUs for Office and then try to explain them to people who only care about Word/Excel/PowerPoint/Outlook. They buy the Home and Student version for less than $100 not realizing Outlook is missing. They are mighty peeved when they find out they now have to shell out another $85 or forgo Outlook. Do you think that this type of “choice” endears Microsoft to retail and small business customers?

    OS X is approaching 10% and growing rapidly. If Microsoft blows the introduction to W7 they may find themselves playing GM to Apple’s Toyota in the near future. Every detail matters in this type of a struggle. I believe that Microsoft is being sloppy here due to a near-term need to maximize revenue. They may end up losing the hearts and minds of the market if they don’t understand that Apple’s one client OS model is a big threat.

  8. You’re very lucky to have a clientele that can afford to pay a signif9icant premium to buy Apple. Hope they stay flush for you this year so you can stay in business. Apple’s business strategy seems risky in this economy, at least for PCs.

  9. Ed:
    I am in a wealthy area, southwestern CT, so I expect there are demographic differences between my small business and residential customers and other parts of the country.

    However, only yesterday I had a retired woman, living on a fixed income, ask me if she should replace her misbehaving Dell XP Optiplex with a Mac because her daughter suggested that she should. If I had not dissuaded her I believe she would have been taking a trip to Best Buy or the Stamford Apple store today. She told me that Dell had offered to replace her machine last year but would only give her a Vista box in swap. She turned them down. I wish she had asked me at the time I would have told go ahead.

    That is real world. That is what I see daily. Computer users who hear and believe that Apple is better and are ready to part with their money even given the price difference. They think they will have an easier time with an Apple machine so spending the extra money is not that big a hurdle to overcome.

  10. In other words, the real issue has nothing to do with confusion over different editions and everything to do with the perception that Windows is unreliable, insecure, etc. If that’s the case, then having one edition doesn’t make a difference.

  11. I am glad to hear that the anytime upgrade might actually work the way it was promised to work when announced for Vista. Simply flip on options rather than a full reinstall / upgrade. My biggest complaint now is that Direct Access ( will only be available in Enterprise / Ultimate. I support K-12 students who purchase tablets which will most likely include Home Premium or Professional and now to get this feature they would have to buy an additional license or upgrade. I don’t know why DirectAccess must be a “restricted” feature like bitlocker is.

  12. @Richard: “It appears that W7 will eventually be 5+ or 10+ SKUs.”

    Just because so called tech journalists confuse the masses by claiming it, or pointing out non-consumer versions (Enterprise, and now Home Basic), or double counting versions (32 bit and 64 bit) doesn’t make it what the choices are.

    For consumers, there are going to be three versions targeted towards them, Home “Premium”, Professional, and Ultimate. Plus Apple sells more then one version of it’s OS (three actually), OS X, OS X Server, and iPhone OS (which is still OS X, unlike Windows Mobile to Windows NT).

    Granted, now consumers, there are really now four, because Microsoft made the retarded “Starter” decision, and Home “Premium” should just be called Home, with “Home” Basic needing to be just called Basic, but Microsoft will eventually get it right.

    Until then, we’ll have to deal with this stupid debate on top of Microsoft actually screwing up, after that, there will be four versions of Windows in the U.S., three for consumers, being the main three I pointed out, and a Starter, and possibly Basic version in developing markets.

    Note how I wasn’t silly and counted the 64 bit versions, which are freely movable back and forth with the 32 bit versions in Vista, and presumably Windows 7, and are at this point, either a “tech” journalists rant of stupid, or at best, poor marketing on Microsoft’s part.

  13. @Ed Bott: I really think you should read my suggestion for Windows 7 pricing, for at very least notebooks.

    A quick summery: Base Windows pricing (at least for netbooks) on a system that has a set price based on OEM pricing that goes down as OEMs include better features in the computer, such as using the 64 bit version of Windows, better specs, or better base features like a webcam, microphone, and even touchscreen.

    It is funny, because I wrote it up on the first, thinking about netbook pricing, and now this SKU story breaks, begging the question of how Microsoft is gonna price Windows.

    1. Interesting idea, but I think it has two problems: One, it’s too complex. Two, and more important, I think it’s prohibited by the antitrust settlement, which requires uniform price lists.

  14. Sigh… More of MS’ golden screwdriver marketing. How I wish MS returned to the days of selling an OS, rather than cannibalizing its market. When there was XP Home and XP Pro, the decision was easy. Vista’s split was ridiculous, and I think consumer confusion also dovetailed into poor perceptions about the OS’s performance.

    I’ll say one thing about Apple: They haven’t fragmented their OS, and that is a powerful marketing tool for them, should they latch onto it.

  15. @Yert:
    “Note how I wasn’t silly and counted the 64 bit versions, which are freely movable back and forth with the 32 bit versions in Vista, and presumably Windows 7, and are at this point, either a “tech” journalists rant of stupid, or at best, poor marketing on Microsoft’s part.”

    This is not a stupid journalist distinction. If you had experience with lots of different setups you might be aware of the subtle but real differences, beyond maximum memory. One prominent example is that Quicken has lots of trouble printing on a 64 bit versions of Vista. Do a Google search to satisfy yourself if you don’t believe me.

  16. In that case, Richard, why not count every language version as well?

    You keep undercutting your argument. For users with demanding configurations who aren’t using Quicken, x64 is an excellent choice. But there are some people who will want to stick with a 32-bit version for compatibility reasons. So Micosoft makes both available.

    So what do yuo suggest they do? Drop x86 completely? Your Quicken-using customers are going to be unhappy at that. So they offer both, and they count on people like you and me to help educate customers as to which version they need.

  17. Ed:
    I think you see “that I am undercutting my argument” where in fact I am not.

    The anecdote of the elderly lady on fixed income only highlights that OS X is better perceived than Windows, even by people who have no knowledge. The point here is that Microsoft has some heavy lifting to do in order to improve the public’s perception of their client OS.

    The Quicken 64 bit issue was posted to let Yert know that there are real differences between 32 bit and 64 bit version of Vista and that they are really different SKUs because they perform differently. BTW, W7 64 bit also shows the Quicken printing issue.

    What I am saying and what I have been saying is that Microsoft added unnecessary complexity to both their product line and the public perception of Vista without real benefit when they created the numerous Vista’s SKUs. They have done similar bad things with Windows versions of Office. They need to be very careful that they do not reinforce this public perception with W7 or they may never recover in the public’s mind, i.e., they become the technology version of GM to Apple’s Toyota.

    Another way to say this—it takes a lifetime to build a reputation and a moment to lose it. Microsoft’s moment may be at hand.

  18. Richard’s favorite example is rather ironic. Intuit is notorious for not updating their software to play well with Windows. This used to happen even way back in the days of Windows 95, and they still haven’t changed their attitude. Forget the printing glitch — the fact that any Intuit software works at all on Windows is actually a testament to the lengths that Microsoft goes to ensure compatibility with poorly-written software.

    Richard and Ed are clearly talking beyond each other. Ed is talking about the reality of Windows. Richard is talking about the perception of Windows. In many cases, there isn’t a whole lot Microsoft can do about the perception, especially given the antitrust scrutiny. (Glitches from poorly-written software is a classic case. Clearly the EU would frown on Microsoft banning all Intuit software until they clean up their act.)

  19. How many other facets of life feature too many options, choices or bits of information for one person to handle and comprehend? Pretty much all of them.

    Trying to pretend that the OS market is (or should be) somehow immune to this reality is pure idiocy. Even with 7 versions, I’m sure there are will be more than a few people complaining that none of the versions matches what they want/need.

    So, how does one cope with this “overwhelming” array of choices? The same way we handle life in general, by ignoring the parts that aren’t relevant to us.

    We’re already doing this for software in general. For any given task, there are at least a dozen apps that can do it. Try listing every word processing app (web-based as well as standalone) on the market today, and you’d be overwhelmed by the possibilities. But users still manage to pick one they like (or can at least tolerate) from among all those choices.

    To my mind, any OS needs a minimum of 3 workstation versions: home user, professional lite (for SOHO users), and professional heavy (or ‘full featured’ for the euphemistic types). Additionally, since MS wants to be everybody’s sole provider for; well, darn near everything; they also have to provide versions for the niche markets, which account for 4 of the 6 versions (ultimate for tech enthusiasts and power users, enterprise for large businesses, home basic for emerging markets, and starter for “netbooks”).

    So, the vast majority of users really only have 2 choices: Home, or Professional; and that’s a fairly easy choice to make.

  20. @Ed Bott: I agree that it is too complex, but an open pricing structure can be done based on the idea. Another issue is that it focuses on getting better quality machines for Windows to run on rather then profit for Microsoft, hurting profit in exchange for brand trust that isn’t necessarily proven to be big enough to make up for that.

    @Richard: Well, I think that poorly constructed programs not running on 64 bit is not Microsoft’s fault (unless it is their program). And we can compare it to Apple’s current strategy, which is a hybrid 32/64bit OS. Who else did that before? Microsoft had Windows ME (and the previous in the 9x series). If you remember, it is what gave Microsoft the reputation for blue screens nearly single-handedly. I know it is temporary for the purpose of moving forward, but I’m a bit more comfortable with Microsoft’s current approach, even if you think it adds more versions.

  21. I cannot recall anyone ever asking me which version of Windows Vista to use as I would say most people just use whatever comes with their order and whatever Dell/HP/Lenovo/Gateway etc has set by default. I think Richard is trying to make it sound confusing, when most Grandmothers wouldn’t know, much less care which OS they got.

  22. I’m not surprised Windows 7 and Vista for that matter had so many versions. Look at the PC market, 90% of home users will be fine with Home Premium. Underpowered or extremely cheap computers for someone just running browsers, word processors, and email will be fine with Home basic. Most businesses don’t need employees messing with Media Center but they need the bit locker and other enterprise features. If your customers are wealthy, I think selling them Ultimate makes sense and compares pretty favorably with anything Apple has to offer when it’s running on a high end PC. I don’t see much problem with the line up and Windows 7 is really nice, although I enjoy Vista 7 looks like a worthwhile upgrade.

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