My complete thoughts on the Windows 7 Editions

Today Microsoft confirmed the official line up of SKU’s (Stock Keeping Units) editions of Windows 7 that will be available to customers at RTM. There is a lot of improvements to how Microsoft markets the new OS and at the same time, I believe there are some blunders. The good news is Microsoft is focusing on two specific SKU’s that provides more clarity in what end users should go after when they are thinking about upgrading, Home Premium and Professional. Interestingly, the Professional branding which was used for Windows 2000 and XP has returned, it seems Vista customers never really caught on with Business because of the name or it just did not seem like a true successor to XP Professional. Some parts of the feature set for SKU’s such as Windows 7 Professional for instance will be marketed as a small business edition of the OS, yet it includes consumer oriented features such as Windows Media Center. Do SMBs use Media Center? Does the the typical XP Professional or Vista Business user really want this feature?

Edition

Features

Starter

Broad app and device compatibility with up to 3 concurrent applications, Safe, reliable, and supported. Ability to join a Home Group, Improved taskbar and JumpLists.

Home Basic

Starter features, Unlimited applications, Live Thumbnail Previews & enhanced visual experience, Advanced networking support (ad-hoc wireless networks and internet connection sharing), Mobility Center

Home Premium

Home Basic features, Unlimited applications Aero Glass & advanced windows navigation, Easy networking & sharing across all your PCs & devices, Improved media format support, enhancements to Windows Media Center and media streaming, including Play To, Multi-touch and improved handwriting recognition.

Professional

Professional features, Unlimited applications , Ability to join a managed network with Domain Join, Protect  data with advanced network backup and Encrypting File System, Print to the right printer at home or work with Location Aware Printing.

Enterprise

Windows 7 Enterprise is available only through Microsoft Volume Licensing.

Ultimate

Professional and Consumer, Unlimited applications, BitLocker data protection on internal and external drives, DirectAccess provides seamless connectivity to your corporate network.  (requires Windows Server 2008 R2), Decrease time branch office workers wait to open file across the network with BranchCache. (requires Windows Server 2008 R2), Prevent unauthorized software from running with AppLocker

Note: Ultimate includes all Enterprise and all Home Premium features, including multi-language packs.

The problem I find with Windows 7 editions is the lack in innovation and giving end users more value and choice. Don’t get me wrong, the new Anytime Upgrade is awesome, simply provide a key and you are upgraded to an SKU with more features, no need for a separate disk or online access necessary. But I believe certain features should have been componentized and sold to the user depending on their SKU. A pick and choose approach especially for users who get a laptop preloaded with Home Basic, carry it to school or work and find out they need to join a domain to access resources, it would be very handy. Some would say, just upgrade to the SKU with the supported feature. But that means paying for more than you really want.

Vista’s SKU lineup was marketed around scenarios, XP was more about hardware form factors and architectures. Windows 7 combines a little bit of each philosophies, but when you look at what Microsoft is recommending for Netbooks, you see the necessity for a pick and choose approach. For customers with specialized needs:  for price-sensitive customers with small notebook PCs, some OEMs will offer Windows 7 Starter. If you look into Starter Editions feature set, it lacks some of the basic mobility capabilities available in higher tier SKU’s such as Mobility Center and Ad-hoc wireless networking capabilities. One of the key elements of a Netbook is, its an Internet oriented small form factor notebook. If features such as the new networking capabilities of Windows 7 such as Sensors won’t be available in it, then its probably gonna be useless on Netbooks except for just WordPad and Paint. Also, artificial restrictions such as a max resolution of 1024 by 768 might make users think twice before choosing this particular SKU with a Netbook.

Also, Home Premium I believe should include Remote Desktop and Complete PC Backup, users of that particular SKU will still have to depend on third party solutions for those capabilities. Bad decision.

The SKU strategy for Windows 7 should have been like this:

  • Windows 7 Home – same strategy as Vista Home basic, supports upgrading from XP Home Edition and Vista Home Basic. Decent looking theme (AERO Glass). I am sure by 2010; most computers will have a powerful enough graphics to at least run this theme.
  • Windows 7 Business (Eliminate Enterprise, let whatever unique functionality it offers be add on under software assurance). This would in fact I believe spur more Company’s to actually sign up, and push the initiative of software as a service in the Enterprise and revamp some of Microsoft’s volume licensing programs like SA and EA.
  • Windows 7 Premium – Includes Media Center and all multimedia features and the successor to Ultimate. Persons who upgrade from Vista Ultimate to 7 Premium must get access to all the same and improved functionality. So, things like Domain Join for instance that is in Ultimate, but is not a default feature of 7 Premium, must be carried over, just write it off as an add on purchased by the user, similar to what I described earlier. I can give an example of this. Remember when the first version of XP MCE was released? It included Domain Join, but subsequent versions after that were done through clean installs did not include Domain Join, but if you upgraded from say MCE v1 to MCE 2004 or 2005, the Domain Join functionality is retained, yeah, it’s something like that.

What might make the buying process simple is Microsoft’s approach to retailing the product. Windows Starter and Home Basic might become only OEM products along with being sold through retail only in emerging markets. Mean while for mainstream developed markets Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate will be the only ones you see on store shelves. That’s a good thing I believe, at least Microsoft is trying lesson the mind maze when you enter the store.

Previously:

Windows 7 to use similar Vista SKU strategy

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