I've been following the Engineering Windows 7 blog closely and I've come to the conclusion that while Steven Sinofsky is a man of many words, those words don't say an awful lot. However, the other day Sinofsky did say something quite interesting:
We heard lots on this forum about providing specific versions of Windows customized for different audiences, while we also heard quite a bit about the need to reduce the number of versions of Windows. However, there are limits to what we can provide and at the same time provide a reliable “platform” that customers and developers can count on and is robust and manageable for a broad set of customers. [emphasis added]
This is the trap that Windows Vista fell into, thanks to marketing. Here you have an OS that comes in four retail flavors (Home Basic, Home Premium, Business and Ultimate), but the differences between these editions comes down to little more than arbitrary decisions made for the sake of marketing and being able to sell existing users an upgrade. For example, someone made the decision that home users were idiots and wouldn't want a complete backup and restore feature, and that business users wouldn't want to make DVDs. Given this, and what Sinofsky says about needing to provide a reliable platform, I really can't understand how the Vista experience ended up being smeared over four editions. Home Basic is little more than a "get out of jail free card" for OEMs to allow them to sell PCs with underpowered GPUs and Ultimate was sold to users on the promise of "Extras" which largely turned out to be vaporware. Given how even on-board GPUs have improved over the last year or so, I doubt that a similar edition will be necessary come Windows 7.
Also, if you exclude Home Basic from the mix, the gap in suggested retail price between Home Premium and Ultimate is $60 (the difference in price for the OEM system builder versions is, oddly enough, $80), and so I really don't think that increased revenues from the version with more features justifies all the consumer confusion that the various versions create. If marketing doesn't have a say in things I'm predicting that Windows 7 will come in two flavors (Home and Pro). There's no reason to have any more versions. Personally, I'd prefer it that Microsoft copied Apple and released only a single version for the desktop, but that's unlikely.
What I'd like to see Windows 7 have is a selection of performance modes that would allow you to shut down unnecessary processes and services when you wanted to play a game or use your system for a demanding task. That would be far more use than a bunch of different editions that boiled down to pretty much the same thing.