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Posted on February 3rd, 2009 by Tim Danton

Making sense of Microsoft

Windows 7 versionsJust when I thought Microsoft had seen sense, just when I thought it had learned from the multitude of mistakes surrounding Vista, it does this. Rather than reduce the number of versions of Windows, it ups the number to six. And what’s more, the versions don’t make sense.

I’ll qualify that a little. The MS press release says, “Windows 7 will have two main SKUs [versions]: Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional. This is where we will focus our marketing and communication across consumers and business customers.”

In other words, the only ads you’ll see paid for directly or indirectly by Microsoft (including adverts for new computers) will include one of those operating systems. The rest will be hidden away from mainstream view.

I’m sure that, sitting in the Microsoft boardroom when all this was decided, that did in fact make sense. Because when you’re sitting in a lovely clean boardroom sipping your decaf espresso, it feels like you’re in control of what the world will do. The terrible truth is, you’re not.

Because in reality, it’s consumers and manufacturers that make decisions over what they buy. Acer, Dell, HP – they’re the ones that will decide which versions of the operating system go onto their netbooks, not Microsoft. Just like Acer derided Vista Home Basic as a sub-OS, declaring “Premium is the real Vista”, so they’ll decide what to load onto their machines.

But let’s take a look at the different versions and see if we can work out the real reasons Microsoft opted for them.

Windows 7 Home Basic

“…the entry-level SKU for value PCs in emerging markets, meant for accessing the internet and running basic productivity applications.”

Now, you can only get this in emerging markets, so theoretically you won’t find it in the UK at all. Except maybe Norfolk. But one of the features MS has stripped out is multi-touch, despite the fact that the latest PCs aimed at “emerging markets” from the likes of the OLPC project and Intel’s Classmate PC actually include a touchscreen.

What possible value is there in stripping out this feature? Why not just have one Windows 7 Home – which everyone will understand – and ship that everywhere?

The only reason that makes any sense is cost – that by stripping out features MS can charge more to the rest of the world. But even then, why is it called Home Basic? Why not just roll it into Windows 7 Starter? Talking of which…

Windows 7 Starter

“‘Starter’ is a limited functionality SKU with an application limit designed for small notebook PCs in all markets”, goes the fluff.

In other words, Microsoft has stripped out even more features than you’ll find in Home Basic. No live thumbnail previews, no ad-hoc wireless networks, no Mobility Center.

In fact, you’ll only be able to use three applications at the same time. Rather like Vista with 1GB of RAM (boom boom).

The reason surely isn’t because Windows 7 Home Premium will struggle to run on a netbook. We’ve already seen that it’s actually quite happy with a 1.6GHz Atom processor and 1GB of memory, and that’s testament to the abilities of Steve Sinofsky’s team of developers: in terms of running on old-spec machines (relative to the date of release that is, I’m not claiming that Windows 3.1 was more memory-intensive!), Windows 7 is the leanest OS we’ve ever seen from the company.

Windows 7 Enterprise/Ultimate

I’ve never seen the point of Vista Enterprise, despite the best efforts of Microsoft employees to persuade me otherwise. The idea is essentially to “reward” loyal (and large) corporations who buy Windows through Software Assurance, but to me it seems more like a punishment to every small business out there.

And, just as with Vista, Windows 7 will reward big business with some excellent, security-based features that in my view are essential for all sizes of business.

They’ll get BitLocker (essentially hardware-encyrpted hard drives), DirectAccess (which should make it incredibly easy for remote employees to access their company network, even if hidden behind a corporate firewall) and AppLocker (which allows IT admins to strictly control which apps can run on company hardware).

Of all those, it’s BitLocker that’s of most interest – just count the number of business laptops released with a TPM chip inside – but the only way a small business can get that feature is to buy the laptop and then use the “in-place upgrade” to Ultimate.

Why oh why can’t Professional include these sorts of security features, which are growing ever more essential? Oh yes, money.

Deep breaths

In short, I feel that Microsoft’s marketers and accountants have been short-sighted and let down the engineers who have made Windows 7 a fantastic product.

Six different SKUs might make sense to MS board members, but in the cold light of day it won’t make sense to the general public. And now all the Microsoft haters out there have yet one more reason to give the company a good kicking.

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Posted in: Rant, Windows 7

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28 Responses to “ Making sense of Microsoft ”

  1. Kevin Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 9:36 am

    It’s simple really. If “everyone” feels this way. Don’t upgrade to Windows 7, stick with XP Pro or Vista if you have. Or better still, down-grade to XP Pro! :D

  2. Dave Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 9:44 am

    And there I was, with the Win7 beta, looking forward to an OS that might be a suitable replacement to XP…

    All I can hope is that Microsoft make Win 7 Ultimate edition available on their student promotions so that I can get it for less than the basic edition…

  3. Steve Cassidy Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 11:30 am

    the number one question that comes to my mind is – what counts as “an application”? My most typical user group actually run 6 at once in XP…

  4. Steve Cassidy Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 11:33 am

    (oh, and possibly some of the logic comes from Sinofsky’s time with the Office team. They have long known that 70% of the world’s spreadsheets contain nothing more sophisticated than “=sum()”. More than likely, 70% of the world wouldn’t even find multitouch, much less let it affect their working practices)

  5. Paul Ockenden Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Multi-touch is, of course, only any use with a touch screen. I think that’s a component that low-end machines will skip.

    Plus, like I wrote in a recent RWC column, I really don’t want my main computer screen covered in fingerprints. It’s OK, just, on an iPhone. But on anything bigger it would drive me mad.

    Anyone know of a screen cleaner manufacturer? I might buy some shares…

  6. Nick Palmer Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Bitlocker. That’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back, isn’t it? There’s an argument that says it should be available in all versions of Windows, but for pity’s sake, in the version that they’re going to be punting to the vast majority of business users, it should be available as standard. OK, we can use Truecrypt instead (which is pretty solid), but FFS… I truly DESPISE Microsoft for the restriction of this feature to Enterprise and Ultimate.

  7. Ian G Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    I don’t think not upgrading is an option, really. One might stick with XP or Vista, but XP lacks good 64bit support, even with it’s 64bit edition, and Windows 7 lacks many of the problems that vista launched with. I am sure that it may be inadvisable to condone piracy, but when they release crippled versions so they can justify making one pay absurd prices for the standard feature set, it seems like a pretty good option to me.

  8. Sorin Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    haha …. let MS have it … kick’em kick’em :) )

  9. Daeng Bo Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    “The idea is essentially to “reward” loyal (and large) corporations who buy Windows through Software Assurance…”
    You mean “Extort money from companies until they convert to Software Assurance and thereby become Microsoft-only houses.”

  10. Satiated Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    No offense, but Europe hasn’t been very friendly to MS recently, especially with included software and web browser. The more software MS tries to include into their OS the more your EU tries to say monopoly and force them to include other products (just like the United States did in the 90s) – which hinders the OS for the consumers. So to complain that they don’t include enough features and software in the release seems a bit ironic? Especially considering when Apple OSX is the more monopolistic OS between the two.

  11. Brandon Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    They could have a million distros of windows 7 as long as they are basically the same then customers wont care a whole lot. The main market will be getting home premium the others as stated are for weaker computers.

  12. stentor Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    looks like I might be hacking this one then. One product should have everything for one price. Times are tight and to think that I have pay even more on top of something already expensively priced is ludicrous. I really like windows 7 and all it’s features, but I feel leaving out the normal user is poor form.

  13. rawbobb Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    Those who do not study history are still doomed to repeat it. and repeat it… and repeat it..

  14. Vasileios Anagnostopoulos Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    I hope that the netbooks come with the option of Windows Basic. I just want to run my favourite OSS apps or even better to dual boot it with Linux.

  15. Six Different Versions Of Windows 7? Didn’t Microsoft Learn Anything From The Last Time They Tried This? « The IT Nerd Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    [...] Oh, I’m not done yet. Accoding to a different PCPro article, each version will have a completely different subset of Windows 7 features. [...]

  16. Michael T. Babcock Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    @Satiated — your points may be true but have nothing to do with the issues in the article. None of the applications that Microsoft has been sued for including in a predatory fashion have been made optional or removed from Windows in these editions. Media Player and Internet Explorer will still be included with the Operating System.

    The anti-trust issue has a lot to do with whether Microsoft is making software you’d buy if they sold is separately. If Windows was $15 cheaper and they sold Internet Explorer 7 or 8 for $15, would you pay extra to have it included? If Windows were $10 cheaper and they charged $10 for a copy of Media Player, would you buy that instead of using Real Player? The argument goes that Microsoft only bundles these products as ways of pushing users onto their products, eliminating competition for their server software (which unlike the players, does cost money).

  17. So Annoying… - Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 12:22 am

    [...] So Annoying… Feb.04, 2009 in Mac, Technology Microsoft has apparently confirmed that Windows 7 will come in six different editions.  Apparently the marketing will only focus on “Home Premium” and “Professional”.  For the rundown on the different editions see PC Pro’s article on Making sense of Microsoft. [...]

  18. Graham Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 4:09 am


    “Especially considering when Apple OSX is the more monopolistic OS between the two.”

    That makes no sense.

    Mac OS runs on ~10% of computers. How could you possibly define that as a monopoly?

    Apple is a for-profit company, and would probably be every bit as bad as Microsoft if their fortunes were reversed, but to suggest that they have any kind of monopoly is absolutely ridiculous.

  19. Bob B Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 4:44 am

    This sort of nonsense is the reason I switched all my customers to Linux! bb

  20. Sam Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 4:57 am

    Just as it looked a bit more interesting with this new version, they are blowing it again!
    What else to expect?
    Would I go into a store and buy an OS which is not the basic version for over $ 300?
    Just forget it!

    They should sell this OS for under $ 100 with all whistles installable, be done with it and sell their applications on top.
    That may be a way for them to stink on against Open Sofware.
    Thomas Penfield Jackson was right on and OS world would have been a better place.

  21. mango Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 5:03 am

    its really easy which one to pick.

    pick the hacked one with all the best features and the most seeds.

    done :)

    then maybe buy a zune to say thank you if the os doesnt suck.

  22. Chris Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Yeah, nice move, Bob B! Why baffle them with just six alternatives, when you can baffle them with hundreds. I’ll bet your ‘customers’ love you.

  23. Alan Lewis Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    They have problems before they get far… try to download the beta. The download manager claims that the file has changed on the server, so you cancel the download. This supposedly deletes what is already downloaded. Try to download again, and the DM is adamant that xx% of the file already exists, but if you try to resume you get the same error as before… repeat endlessly. How does one remove this java app!!!

    As for multiple versions… of course, what else do you expect. It confuses the customer, who thinks they “need” the ultimate (and most expensive) version. It pro-actively staves off EU legal action, as they can claim that a given version allows 3rd party competition. And the major complaint about Vista was performance, not versions… which they beleive thay have addressed. Still will not be touching it. Since when does an OS *need* gigabytes of memory just to load itself. Go to UKCentral and read my article about running yesteryears apps on yesterdays hardware, and how one’s productivity shoots through the window :-)

  24. Chris Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    I too am concerned about the number of OS’ that may be available, but more importantly the missing (and much needed) components that are included in the ultimate versions, but not in the basic levels. Doesn’t Microsoft believe that even Home users want to Backup their systems, and perhaps secure through encryption their data especially if on a Laptop? The premium required to enjoy these facilities is especially high, when you consider that these are seen by some users as necessities not luxury items.
    On another tack, when it comes to pricing what about the users who bought systems with Vista pre-installed, or upgraded thanks to articles from the PC press (PC Pro included) extolling its virtues, will they get a cheaper upgrade path to Windows 7 than those who stayed with XP?

  25. J.L.Lee Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

  26. steven sprague Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    The reality is that everyone should be specifying their PC with hardware full disk encryption it is faster and stronger then bitlocker and way easier to setup and use Bitlocker needs an IT staff to use it well. In addition millions of PCs ship with TPMs and THe software to use them The TPM is a great enhancement to any VPN or Wireless solution. All Software certificates should be secured by the TPM to hold the keys.
    This all works on Win XP, Vista (all Flavors) and Win 7 (when it ships)

    1. Make sure all procured PCs include hardware Encrypted Drives. For an example look at harddrive options when configuring a Dell Latitude (they offer Seagate’s Solution)

    2. Use the TPM to enhance all SSL and IPSEC security and eliminate the use of VPN passwords entirely. Information on how to leverage this standard can be found at and other ISV sites as well.
    Works with Cisco, Citrix, Juniper, Linksys, Microsoft………

    Steven Sprague

  27. AnonnyMuss Says:
    February 6th, 2009 at 9:10 am

    It’s quite simple really – this shows MS is run by economists. MS have a monopoly. What do monopolies do to maximise profits/producer surplus? They use price discrimination. That’s exactly what this multiple SKU business is all about.

    That’s all there is to it.

    I think there should only really be 2 versions of W7 (like what? XP!!), a consumer one and a business one. The OS should be intelligent enough to strip down itself (or let the OEMs do it) for lesser machines e.g. notebooks and emerging markets.

  28. Brian Butters Says:
    February 8th, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    I have to use Windows in my job – I just make do with whatever the IT department give me. At home I use Linux and cheer whenever I see another corporation and government take up Linux and dump Microsoft. I look forward to seeing Apple progress as well. With Microsoft, It’s not just the operating system – Office 2007 is horrendous. Microsoft is going down and I look forward to watching it happen.


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