Windows 7 to ship in six different versions

Only three versions will be available at retail

If you thought that Microsoft learned all its lessons with Vista - you'll be disappointed. Despite the fact Windows 7 beta is getting mostly positive reviews, revelations that Microsoft plans on releasing six different flavors of Windows 7 left many in the tech world stupefied and wondering why.

Microsoft confirmed the multi-version release of Windows 7 to various sources including Gizomodo and Paul Thurrott of Windows Supersite. However, Microsoft has not released any official statement to the public regarding this decision.

Many have been critical of Microsoft's decision to release multiple versions of Windows Vista. The move created consumer confusion as to what version might be best to buy. It also created compatibility issues with software and hardware when people wanted to upgrade from XP to Vista. Lastly, many saw multi-versions of Vista as a self-serving way for Microsoft to charge vastly different prices for different versions of Vista with little benefit to end users.

We don't know about pricing or availability (although some speculate Windows 7 will be available early next year), but here is a breakdown of what we do know and the differences between the versions of Windows 7.

First off, all users of XP and Vista will be able to upgrade their OS license to Windows 7. The catch is the upgrades will have to be a clean installation of Windows 7, meaning you'll have to re-install programs and backup and replace data.

Windows 7 Starter Edition

The Starter Edition (SE) is mainly aimed at emerging market and netbook users. With SE customers will be able to run only 3 applications at the same time but will benefit from user interface (UI) improvements such as the new taskbar and JumpLists. Also, users will be able to join a Home Group (to share media files over a local network).

Windows 7 Home Basic

The Home Basic Edition (HB) is basically the equivalent of Vista's Media Center edition and will allow the use of unlimited applications at the same time, while bringing further UI enhancements such as live thumbnail previews and 'enhanced visual experience'. Additionally, HB also enables advanced networking support like Internet connection sharing (including over wireless) and brings the Mobility Center (power management for laptops).

Windows 7 Home Premium

The Home Premium (HP) version will bring all the visual goodies of Windows 7 like the Aero Glass UI and the advanced window navigation. Besides touchscreen implementations (handwriting recognition, multi-touch), the Home Premium edition also brings improved media format support and enhancements to Windows Media Center and media streaming.

Windows 7 Professional

The Professional edition of Windows 7 brings along more security and networking features like the Encrypting File System, advanced network backup and joining managed networks with Domain Join. Also, the Pro version brings location aware printing - whether at home or work.

Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows 7 Ultimate

Whether you're a home user or a business, the Enterprise and Ultimate editions (probably differentiated by price in the end) will bring a similar set of advanced features like bitLocker data protection for internal and external drives, DirectAccess for corporate networking based on Windows Server 2008 R2 and lock unauthorized software from running with AppLocker.

My guess is that Microsoft will market aggressively the Home Premium and Professional editions for home users while netbook users should aim for the Starter version. Microsoft also recommends business users to use either the Professional or the Enterprise edition.

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Daniel Ionescu

PC World (US online)
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