Windows 7 gets SKU(were)d

image I finally installed the Windows 7 beta on a (low-end) PC this week and so far the improvements look promising. I also became aware of a new feature in the ATA architecture that Microsoft will support in the OS called TRIM that should help with performance of SSDs. But, as I’ve often said, it isn’t the feature set that has been responsible for Windows Vista’s criticism. it’s been performance and compatibility.

Or maybe it’s simply a curse. Since the watershed that was Windows 95, every other consumer operating system that Microsoft has released in the past 10 years has been received poorly:

  • Windows 98: positive reaction
  • Windows ME: negative reaction
  • Windows XP: positive reaction
  • Windows Vista: negative reaction

In any case, Microsoft was raked over the coals this week for announcing that Windows 7 will be available in six different flavors, ranging from Starter to Ultimate. This will certainly leave the company open to the barbs that Apple has slung at it, including the “wheel of operating systems” commercial that is part of the Long-Hodgman “Get a Mac” ads as well as the joke at WWDC that Mac OS “standard version” and “professional version” are the same price (because they are, of course, one and the same).

But, despite the longstanding rivalry and multiple points of competition, Microsoft’s business is very different than Apple’s, and Microsoft has major consistencies that Apple does not have to focus on as much or at all, including PC manufacturers, enterprises, and retailers. Therefore, Windows 7 Enterprise, for example, shuld be available only to customers only on Microosft’s enterprise license plans. Starter wlll have hardware constraints so that it runs only on netbooks (and, as I mentioned to Gene Steinberg yesterday in his Mac Night Owl podcast, allowing users to run three apps at once is two apps more than the iPhone allows).

So, there’s no getting around it. Windows’ SKU system is more complex, but Microsoft’s business is more complex. The most significant saving grace is that the editions are progressive supersets like Russian dolls, so that Ultimate will include all the features of products below it, as well Pro, Home Premium, etc. Microsoft is also promising smoother on-the-fly upgrades in Windows 7. That said, most consumers in developed countries will be routed summarily to Windows Home Premium and that’s what will come on their PCs with Ultimate available via special promotions.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t simplify, though. While I can see reasons why Microsoft chose certain names, here’s how I would consolidate and name the SKUs.

  • Basic (includes three-app limit)
  • Home
  • Pro/ Pro Limed Edition
  • Enterprise

As Enterprise is not broadly available and Microsoft really wants to steer consumers toward Home Premium (“Home” in my scenario), I would combine the Starter and Home Basic SKUs and eliminate Ultimate, instead making it a Limited Edition of one of the other SKUs. This is all with the caveat that we really have yet to see what the full pricing and feature sets of the SKUs will look like.

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