Windows 7 editions revealed

February 4, 2009 // 10:45 a.m.

Tags: #enterprise #home #home-basic #home-premium #premium #sku #skus #starter #ultimate #windows #windows-7

If you've been hoping that Windows 7 might heal some of the divisions Windows Vista caused with its multifarious and often confusing editions, think again: the new OS is due to ship in no less than six different versions.

According to an article over on Engadget, Microsoft is due to launch six individual versions of Windows 7 – while aptly demonstrating that it didn't learn from the outcry over Windows Vista's confusing licensing.

Windows 7 will be offered in Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate. The breakdown of which versions do what is perhaps a little counter-intuitive, and shows no improvements over the Vista SKU system.

The Starter edition will only be available under an OEM licensing agreement, and will restrict users to three running applications at any one time – and will not feature the revamped Aero interface. It's clearly designed to be a “try-before-you-buy” route to convince users to pay an additional fee – via the Windows Anytime Upgrade system which first featured in Vista – to upgrade to a more functional version. It's also possible that Microsoft is hoping that this will prove a possibility for future netbooks – devices not given to too much multitasking.

Home Basic, on the other hand, has the restriction on simultaneous applications lifted – although will still be missing the Aero interface. Microsoft is describing this edition as being aimed at “emerging markets,” and should be releasing this version in both OEM and retail editions. Quite what the company calls an “emerging market” - and whether that means we'll see it in the UK or not – is as yet unknown.

Home Premium is the version that most people will be using on a daily basis. The first world-wide Windows 7 release, Home Premium will feature the Aero interface, multi-touch functionality, gaming and media functionality by default, and the ability to set up a home network.

Professional builds on Home Premium with the introduction of support for domain-based networking, remote desktop support, and “presentation mode” – a technology aimed at improving the use of external displays in addition to in-built notebook screens.

Strangely, the Professional – despite its name – isn't the version that most business types will be using: that honour will go to Enterprise, which will only be available via one of the company's volume licensing schemes. Building on both Professional and Premium, Enterprise adds BitLocker drive cryptography support, the ability to boot directly from a virtual hard drive, and the branch cache functionality which aims to speed up WAN data access for multiple users.

If you simply must have the Enterprise version, but can't quite swing enough cash to spring for a volume license agreement, there's always Windows 7 Ultimate: it's Enterprise in all but name with all the functionality that implies. Sadly, Microsoft is describing this edition as “limited availability” in both retail and OEM form, so you might have a battle on your hands to get this version for anything resembling a reasonable price. Why the company has seen fit to artificially restrict supplies is anyone's guess.

If you're confused about the options available, that makes two of us – hopefully Microsoft will be releasing a better breakdown closer to release. Better yet, they could ditch the whole concept and go back to Windows XP era licensing - “Home” and “Professional.”

Have you picked your edition of Windows 7 already, or are you holding out for a version of Windows that doesn't require a gigantic feature comparison grid to drill down to the version that's right for you? Should Microsoft rethink the whole licensing scheme prior to launch? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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