Vista versions not so confusing after all

Vista versions not so confusing after all

Summary: When the rumors of Vista versions first began flying several months ago, some people complained of the potential for mass confusion among Windows consumers. Now that the official announcement is out, those fears seem overblown. In fact, the five major Vista versions might make upgrading easier than ever for retail users.

TOPICS: Windows

Yesterday Microsoft released information about how Windows Vista will be packaged when it’s ready for retail delivery later this year. (The press release, unfortunately, is written in very broad strokes. I hope Microsoft publishes a detailed feature matrix soon.)

When the rumors of Vista versions first began flying several months ago, I read many complaints about the potential for mass confusion among Windows consumers. Now that the official announcement is out, those fears seem overblown.

Set aside the Starter version, which is designed for use on cheap PCs in emerging markets (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil, India, and many more) and won’t be sold in the U.S., Europe, and other major markets. Forget about the N versions, too - those are the Media Player-free versions the European Commission required Microsoft to make available to OEMs as part of its antitrust decree, and they’ve been a spectacular flop in the marketplace.

With those oddballs out of the way, the mix of Windows Vista products is down to a mere five. Not eight, seven, or even six. Five. Retail customers have four choices:

  • Windows Vista Home Basic is for cost-conscious PC buyers who want basic functionality without a lot of extras. It uses the simplified Vista user interface and doesn’t support DVD burning or Media Center features. This version will probably end up on the entry-level PCs for every major manufacturer, with encouragements to upsell.
  • Windows Vista Business adds the Aero interface, support for Tablet PCs, integrated desktop search, and other goodies. It’s not clear whether it includes Media Center features, but given its positioning – small to medium-size businesses that lack IT departments – it’s reasonable to assume that those pieces aren’t there. I expect to see this SKU as the baseline Windows Vista offering on entry-level PCs pitched at business customers.
  • Windows Vista Home Premium adds the Aero interface, integrated desktop search, Media Center features, and support for DVD burners. It’s unclear whether it supports Tablet PCs, but I’m guessing it doesn’t. This will be the default installation for most mid-range PCs. In fact, it's a simple test: If the computer has a DVD burner, it will probably get Home Premium.
  • Windows Vista Ultimate is positioned as the one that “has it all.” It includes all the features in the other retail versions as well as corporate features like BitLocker drive encryption. Is it a complete superset of the Enterprise edition? That’s not yet clear.

Before you start envisioning customers standing, in hopeless confusion, in an aisle at CompUSA trying to decide which box to buy, remember that roughly 9 out of 10 copies of Windows are sold with new PCs. For the most part, PC makers will make the choice that matches the hardware and will do their level best to sell upgrades. Those rare consumers who do buy a retail box generally tend to be enthusiasts who will naturally gravitate to the Home Premium and Ultimate versions.

Corporate customers who have PCs covered by Microsoft Software Assurance or a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement have it easiest of all: They get one version, Windows Vista Enterprise, which includes BitLocker encryption, Virtual PC Express, and the Aero interface. The idea is to give corporate customers a single image that they can customize and deploy to meet their own needs.

The biggest change of all? One retail DVD includes all four versions. The product key, which is entered at the beginning of the installation process, determines which version gets installed. That’s potentially very good news for retail customers, who should be able to use any Windows Vista media to reinstall the operating system (provided they haven’t lost the product key).

One aspect of this architecture that I haven’t read much discussion about yet is the very easy upgrade scenario. With a single media source, it should be possible for a Windows user to upgrade to a more feature-rich version without a lot of hassle. Buy a new product key from a retailer or direct from Microsoft (the price would depend on the specifics of the upgrade – jumping from Home Basic to Ultimate would incur a bigger price than going from Basic to Home Premium or from Home Premium to Ultimate).

If the upgrade premium is low enough, this could be the ultimate upsell opportunity. You want Media Center features? Buy a $50 upgrade, get the product ID via e-mail, and install the new version from your existing media. For that matter, you could upgrade a handful of computers on a home or small business network with one DVD and a quick visit to an online license reseller.

I’ve got the latest beta release of Windows Vista Ultimate installed here now. Over the next day or two I plan to install all four retail versions so I can do a useful feature matrix. Stay tuned.

Update: This new feature, called Windows Anytime Upgrade, is in the most recent builds of Windows Vista (February CTP, build 5308). I've posted screen shots of the upgrade utility here

Topic: Windows

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  • so much fragmentation

    just need one flavor with all the OPTIONAL toys, notice the apps people want are optional, the apps people do NOT want are bolted to the OS
    • and becoming more fragmented with each version

      Remember the good ol' days, when administrators just needed to support NT Workstation & NT Server? It was basic, it was simple, but it worked! Then came Win2k with 3 different server editions, then WinXp with 2 different workstation editions, and server 2003 with 4 server editions (7 if you include R2), now comes Vista with 5 workstation editions and god only knows how many server editions!
  • basic

    basic would be the best option if they'd include 64-bit support. from what i've heard they won't :/
    having it all on one disc is a huge mistake for MS in terms of piracy. people will just get product keys from their friends and upgrade for free. or even better, just crack the install for those who are good enough.
    Scott W
    • Hacking the Vista install

      Although I have yet to look at a Vista disk, I really doubt that it will be easy to hack the install.

      First, the upgrade keys will be disk-specific, so getting a key from a friend will be worthless unless they are sharing the same basic disk (which in itself will probably be virtually impossible, based on how Windows XP already monitors this.

      Second, strong encryption coupled with a very large key will make it extremely unlikely that most non-government security agencies will hack the install.
      • psbecker

        You obviously don't have your thumb on the hacker communities pulse. I give it less than 2 days before hacks will be available.
  • Is there any point to Vista Home Basic?

    Is there really any point to selling Vista Home Basic? I mean, think about it, if it's only being shiped with PCs that don't have DVD burners, then how many will that be? Most PCs on the market now a days come with DVD burners as standard, think how many that'll be in a years time when Vista finally gets released.
    This whole version idea just seems to be a way of making more money out of people, the price won't be cheaper for a more basic version, but it will be more expensive for the advanced versions.
    Also don't forget you'll also have at least 3 different versions of Vista server to decide over (standard, enterprise/advanced, data centre).
    • Some, but not a lot

      Even those low end machines that have DVD burners can ship with Home Basic. When I bought my DVD burner (I'm on XP), it came with software that should be installable on Home Basic. It just won?t be handled natively.

      I think for volume licensing, it will be cheaper for the end user. Remember, big shops like Dell get XP for around $50 (that is a guesstimate), so if they shave that down some for Home Basic, the consumer will save.

      As for Server, I like the options. For businesses, those making the purchasing decisions (hopefully) understand what is needed, and will buy accordingly.
      • Why split functionality over 2 editions

        Maybe. But rather than stripping out functionality, that people will probably end up wanting, or will come with the PC in another form (Nero or Roxio usually come free), why not just have Vista Home edition, with everything a home user could want, then Vista Business, with everything a company might need, and if they really have to, Vista Ultimate (that will make you coffe in the morning, and walk your dog at night).
        Also what's the bet that it will cost more to upgrade to the next version, than it would to have originally brought it in the first place, even thought it's only a license key via email!
        • I would tend to agree

          at least for Home. For all the complaining that folks have been doing about the hardware needed to drive the new UI, it will be a commodity by next year. Even your $300 Dells will have more then enough to drive it. And when even the cheapest commodity boxes can drive the UI, I think Home Basic becomes extraneous.
          I still think the business side benefits from options, however. A lot of the toolsets and features of the Enterprise Edition are, quite frankly, useless to small companies. Why pay for functionality that I am not going to use? As long as it is easy to upgrade should the need arise (and the charge of the upgrade isn?t substantially higher then buying it originally), I think it is a win-win.
    • Yes...there is a point.

      As a reseller of desktops for home and business users we, much to my surprise, sell more basic desktops to home users than anything else and often times against our general advice.

      It is the pricepoint. When people shop a basic machine a difference of twenty bucks can make or break a sale. These same people, very often, come back and get upgrades later but we've discovered what the big pc manufacturers already know and that is the magical price range of 299 to 599 (with flat screen monitor!).

      There's no appreciable margin and so Basic edition exists to keep prices as low as possible in order to get basic pc buyers into a machine.
      • When I had my own shop we use to refer the them as

        "Tire Kickers" heh heh heh...:)

        Pagan jim
      • yes but...

        how does leaving out functionality keep the price lower, it isnt costing them any extra to include the fuctions... they are already created!!! no one is doing any extra work to make the higher level of OS, they create the highest level, then scale it back, which in essentially is what actually costs more, more man hours to adapt and take things out... WHY!!!!!! just give us an effective OS without bleeding our wallets to make it effective 6 months later (bloody virus scanners, spyware filters, etc...)
        • Good point!

          I would agree on a technical and development level and all of the software, if the rumors are true, will be on every disc. The license code you have will determine the features you can install.

          From a marketing and profit point of view you can make more money by selling more $50 versions than picking a good average, but higher, price point and selling fewer copies.

          Another reason? I used to work in the wireless industry so I can say that this type of business model comes directly out of the wireless business. It didn't cost much more in support and infrastructure to provide the advanced features but people who didn't want them always asked why they had to pay for them. Those people wanted a basic phone without data, internet, messaging and all the rest and they simply wouldn't buy a plan or phone that had them.

          That is the psychological aspect of offering limited versions and it is a powerful one to a lot of consumers. They ask why they just can't buy a cheaper version without all the bells and whistles they don't use. Microsoft is catering to them with the lesser versions.
        • RE: yes but...

          >> does leaving out functionality keep the price lower, it isnt costing them any extra to include the fuctions... they are already created!!!...<<

          Didn't Intel do that with the 486SX/486DX? The 486SX had floating point disabled and was sold at a lower price than the 486DX. But the 486SX started as the 486DX(higher priced)and the floating point was disabled to make it the 486SX(cost more to make, but sold to the consumer for less money). It was purely a marketing scheme that Intel took a lot of heat for. How is the Vista packaging different and shouldn't we be just as upset with Microsoft as we were with Intel? Any of you been around long enough to remember the 486?
          • Just...

            Just...My 1st PC was a 486SX 25! ah those were the days, 540mb hard disk, 4mb ram, MSDOS would never blue screen, and 'Secret Agent' was the best game around!

            But I digress....

            If people are still interesting in this tread read Nick Meyer's post entitled "Seven Vista Flavors? NO NO NO NO NO NO NO" in todays WServerNews
    • Do you need DVD burning support?

      Every DVD burner I've seen comes with it's own drivers and software for burning. Usually it's an express version of Nero.

      I don't think I've ever used Microsoft's software to burn a DVD.

      Now I could be off here. Does not support mean breaking the OS so DVD burner won't work or does it just mean it's not supported but you can go third party?
      • Just native...I hope...

        I think it means it just won't support DVD burning nativly, in the same way you can drag and drop files to a CD-R in XP (pro at least, dunno about home), and have Windows burn the cd-r, I'm guessing Vista will be able to do the same for DVD in the advanced versions, but not basic. I'm sure they wouldn't be aloud to block 3-rd party software from burning, that would be anti-competitive.
        • Correct, just native

          Yes, this refers to built-in DVD burning/authoring features. Any user or OEM will be able to install compatible third-party software to enable DVD burning, regardless of which Vista version is installed.
          Ed Bott
    • Nope

      It's the castrated step-child version. Not many PC's will have it because of DVD burners -- you're right.

      However, multiple server versions is nothing new; we've had that in Windows Server for years. That, IMO, is actually important.

      More than 2 versions of the client OS? Utterly stupid.
      • Technically there are 4 maybe more versions

        You have Win 2K Pro, Windows XP Pro, Windows XP home, and Windows XP Media Center. Then there is tablet or 64 bit versions if you choose to count them. I wouldn't because I'd just count what you could install on given set of hardware.

        I don't know if I'd say it's stupid. What if I don't want the media center DVD burning capabilities. I'll use Nero to burn DVDs. It's not like I need Microsoft software to do it.