Microsoft Confirms Six Vista Editions

Echoing the information that leaked out last week, Microsoft early Monday confirmed it will ship six different editions of Windows Vista. Two versions will be designed for businesses, three for consumers, and one for emerging markets. But will consumers welcome choice or simply be intimidated by the number of options?

As previously reported, at the bottom of the list is Windows Starter 2007, which will likely replace the current Windows XP Starter Edition SKU. This slimmed down version of Windows does not carry the Vista branding as it is designed purely as a low-cost option in specific countries.

Microsoft will offer two Home editions of Windows Vista. Home Basic will serve as the baseline SKU for single PC homes, but lacks some key features including Vista's Aero Glass user interface and integrated search technology. Customers with Basic must use a separate Search Explorer tool instead.

Vista Home Premium, meanwhile, adds Windows Media Center functionality, support for Tablet PCs and integrated DVD burning. Premium users will also be able to take advantage of integrated search throughout the operating system, instantly pulling up documents, pictures, movies, videos and music.

Windows Vista Business will succeed Windows XP Professional. Multi-processor support and more advanced policy tools will target business professionals and IT managers. It's likely that Remote Desktop and advanced networking such as IPSec and NetWare support will only come in the Business edition and up.

For companies that need even more functionality, Windows Vista Enterprise will fill that role. It will build upon Business with Vista's BitLocker disk encryption feature, VirtualPC, multi-language user interface support, and Services for UNIX. Enterprise will only be available to Microsoft's Software Assurance customers.

Lastly, Microsoft will offer Windows Vista Ultimate, a SKU that combines all of the features of the Home Premium and Enterprise editions with even more functionality. However, Redmond officials have yet to disclose what extras the top version will include.

The new Windows Sidebar will ship with all editions of Vista except Windows Starter. 64-bit versions of each SKU will also be available.

Jupiter Research senior analyst and Microsoft Monitor author Joe Wilcox notes that by issuing six editions of Windows Vista -- three specifically targeted at consumers -- the company is giving hardware vendors more flexibility. However, Wilcox also expressed concern over such complexity.

"The new versions absolutely create more potential PC differentiation than with Windows XP and that's a great opportunity for Microsoft hardware partners," remarked Wilcox. "But it's a problem, too...I contend simplicity would make easier the marketing messaging and the customer buying process. The last thing Microsoft should want is for the buying process to be more complicated, potentially creating resistance to upgrades."

Wilcox also noted that Microsoft has done away with the Windows Media Center branding, which has been employed by a multitude of manufacturers. "If HP continues using the term, will it mean anything to consumers with Microsoft taking a different approach to versions? Windows Media Center is no longer a discreet version but part of other Windows Vista versions," he said.

Al Gillen, research director for System Software at IDC, thinks the approach will work. "Microsoft's strategy to address different customer segments with versions of Windows Vista optimized for their needs should be well received by these diverse user segments," Gillen said.

Microsoft did not announce pricing, only saying that Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate and Business will be available as fully packaged products at retail and on new PCs. Some analysts expect Ultimate and Enterprise to cost more than Windows XP Professional did upon launch.

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