What if users could have Windows their way?

Summary:How much would you pay Microsoft for a port of its BitLocker drive encryption -- a technology slated to be available only to Vista Enterprise and Vista Ultimate users -- that could run on the Vista Business SKU? This might not be a purely hypothetical question.

How much would you pay Microsoft for a port of its BitLocker drive encryption -- a technology slated to be available only to Vista Enterprise and Vista Ultimate users -- that could run on the Vista Business SKU? Or on Windows XP, for that matter?

This might not be a purely hypothetical question.

When I read today that Apple is expected to charge Mac OS X Tiger users some fee (educated guessers predict $29) for a version of the BootCamp Windows shell that will work on Mac OS 10.4, it got me thinking. What if Microsoft did something similar and offered to sell different pieces of Windows to users of older versions?

The scenario isn't as far-fetched as it may sound. After all, Microsoft seems to be moving toward making more elements of Windows available as free and/or paid online services. Vista's Welcome screen already offers links to Windows Live Mail Desktop (free), Windows Live OneCare (paid), Windows Live Messenger (free) and Windows Live Toolbar (free).

On January 22, I asked Cindy Bates, who is general manager of Microsoft's U.S. small business group, whether Microsoft might entertain the idea of allowing Vista Business customers to obtain features like BitLocker in the form of a paid download and/or in some other way. Bates said that if Microsoft heard from enough small-business customers that they wanted BitLocker but didn't want other Vista Ultimate or Enterprise features, Microsoft would look into how and if such a move would be potentially feasible.

If Microsoft were to go this route, there'd be risks involved.

First, there's the chance that a bigger pool of Windows users would hold off from upgrading because a combo like Windows XP + BitLocker would suit the vast majority of their needs. No need for Vista here!

In a similar vein, Microsoft wouldn't be able to use certain Vista features, like BitLocker, as a carrot to entice more users to sign up for its Software Assurance licensing plan. Currently the Vista Enterprise SKU is only available to Software Assurance customers.

There's also the whole support issue. How would Microsoft handle support calls if the number of potential Windows SKUs wasn't just six or eight, but was 68. Vista Business + BitLocker would require different support experts than would Vista Business + Virtual PC Express.

Would you prefer to order Windows your way, even if you had to pay a higher price to do so? Would you want your Vista without the Aero pickles, but with more special SideShow sauce? WOuld you be willing to pay a premium to get a version of Windows that required a one-time (as opposed to constantly recurring) Genuine Advantage validation check?

What else would make you a happier Windows customer, short of a free Bill Gates bobblehead toy with every meal?

Update: One of my readers reminded me that Microsoft may, indeed, be mulling this kind of modularized OS concept, given its pay-as-you-go patent recently uncovered by Long Zheng on Istartedsomething.com.)

Topics: Windows

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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