Ed Bott's been sweating the small stuff, wondering what the next version of Windows will be called. To be perfectly honest with you, I couldn't care less what it's called. I'm far more interested in how many different flavors of the OS we can expect to have to deal with.
First, a quick history lesson/timeline outlining the major version of Windows:
- In the beginning there was Windows 1.0, released November 1985.
- This was followed by Windows 2.0 at the end of 1987.
- Windows 3.0 was released May 1990.
- Windows 3.1 hit PC April 1992, which was closely followed by ...
- Windows for Workgroups 3.1 released October 1992.
- Windows NT 3.1 (which came in Workstation flavor only) was released July 1993.
- Windows for Workgroups 3.11 was released August 1993.
- Windows NT 3.5 Workstation and Server was released September 1994.
- Windows NT 3.51 Workstation and Server was released May 1995.
- Windows 95 (which can be considered to be the first consumer-oriented version of Windows) debuted August 1995.
- Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, Server, Server Enterprise Edition, Terminal Server, and Embedded was released July 1996.
- Windows 98 hit PC back in June 1998.
- Windows 98SE came out May 1999.
- Windows 2000 Professional, Server, Advanced Server, and Datacenter Server was released February 2000.
- Windows Me was released September 2000 (some would say this OS escaped!).
- With the release of Windows XP in October 2001 everything changed. This OS saw consumer and business OSes released under a single name. XP came in Home, and Professional, and of lesser importance, Media Center, and Tablet PC flavors (along with other lesser known flavors).
- We then had to wait until November 2006 (or January 2007 for consumers) before we get to Windows Vista. Vista came in a whole raft of flavors - Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate, and of lesser importance, Starter, Home Basic N, and Business N.
Now what you notices from glancing at this timeline is that up until Vista, people didn't really need to think that much about what flavor of OS they wanted since there was really only one consumer flavor and one professional flavor to choose from. With the release of Vista Microsoft changed the rules dramatically and offered three different versions to consumers - Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate. Home Basic was there to allow OEMs to sell sub-standard PCs, while the differences between Home Premium and Ultimate are artificial and there mostly for the purposes of marketing.
Now, ideally I'd like to see Microsoft return to a situation where there's one consumer and one professional flavor of Windows. In fact, why not take it a step further and adopt the Mac approach and go with a single version. From a marketing/sales POV that's not likely to happen, but if the OS is designed to be modular, there's no reason why it couldn't work.
Another reason why a return to a simpler time is unlikely is because Microsoft seems to have embraced the idea of numerous flavors not only with Windows but also with Office, which now ships in no less than five different flavors. Office 2007 was developed under the leadership of Steven Sinofsky. Sinofsky now leads the Windows team.
My best guess (and at present it is only a guess) is that Windows 7 will ship in much the same flavors as Vista, except with the possibility that the Home Basic flavor will be eliminated because it looks somewhat superfluous in light of modern hardware.