The speculation regarding the number of Windows 7 SKUs is now at an end as Microsoft has announced that its forthcoming operating system will ship in five product editions. Here's how the entire line-up breaks down:
|SKU||Target market||Key features|
|Windows 7 Starter||Low-end||Windows Media Player, Backup and Restore, Action Centre, Enhanced Taskbar, Device Stage|
|Windows 7 Home Premium||Mainstream||As above, plus Aero, Multi-touch support, Home Group, Media Centre|
|Windows 7 Professional||Mainstream||As above, plus Mobility Center, Offline Folders, Remote Desktop, Domain Join, Encrypting File System|
|Windows 7 Enterprise||Business||As above, plus BitLocker, AppLocker, Direct Access, Branche Cache, volume-licensing|
|Windows 7 Ultimate||Enthusiast||As above, minus volume licensing|
Five editions are more than most had hoped for, but to Microsoft's credit, this line-up is a far more solid solution than the mish-mash of Windows Vista SKUs.
This time around, each product edition is a superset of the one before it. Therefore, all the features found in Windows 7 Starter can be found in Windows 7 Home Premium, all the features in Windows 7 Home Premium can be found in Windows 7 Professional, and so forth. Consequently, it's actually a rather good range.
Furthermore, Microsoft has confirmed that Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional will be the two editions subjected to widespread marketing. These are the two that everyday consumers will be seeing on store shelves. Essentially, many of us adopting Windows 7 will be choosing one or or the other.
Windows 7 Starter, aimed at the low-end netbook market, will allow just three open applications to run concurrently and will only be made available directly to PC manufacturers. Windows 7 Enterprise will be in place for volume-licensing customers, and importantly adds enterprise functionality without losing components such as Media Centre.
Finally, Windows 7 Ultimate offers all the functionality of Windows 7 Enterprise, but with retail licensing. Although available for single users who need business-class functionality, Microsoft states that Windows 7 Ultimate won't be a subject of focus and will be offered on a limited basis.
Microsoft has also confirmed that end users will be able to upgrade from any version of Windows 7 using the built-in Windows Anytime Upgrade utility.
Five editions sounds ominous for the end consumer, but in reality, most will be seeing just the two. That and the fact that all five editions are supersets of one another make it seem like another step forward for Windows 7.
Mind you, we haven't heard a mention of pricing yet...
*Update* A sixth edition, dubbed Windows 7 Home Basic, will be made available to emerging markets only and will be a slimmed-down version of Windows 7 Home Premium. Thanks to lodore for the tip!