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Microsoft briefly posted a list of Windows Vista versions to its Web site, giving additional clues that the next-generation operating system will come in even more flavors than the current Windows XP.
Although Microsoft hasn't released a final catalog of Vista versions, dubbed SKUs for Stock Keeping Unit, it published a list to a help page on the Microsoft Web site that spelled out six core editions, plus another two which meet the European Union's antitrust ruling that the OS comes sans Windows Media Player.
According to the page, which has since been removed from the site, Vista will be available as Windows Starter 2007, Windows Vista Home Basic (with an 'N' edition for the EU), Windows Vista Home Premium, Windows Vista Business (also with an 'N' version), Windows Vista Enterprise, and Windows Vista Ultimate.
Presumably, Windows Starter 2007, the lowest-priced version, won't carry the "Vista" name because it won't offer the new Aero graphics display, nor come in a 64-bit version. Windows Vista Home Basic and Windows Vista Home Premium will offer fundamental features and Media Center-like entertainment tools, respectively.
Windows Vista Business will be analogous to Windows XP Professional, while Windows Vista Enterprise will include Virtual PC and advanced encryption tools.
Windows Vista Ultimate, meanwhile, is to include elements of both Vista Home Premium and Vista Business, with some additional as-yet-undisclosed tools and/or features.
On Tuesday, Microsoft issued a statement denying that the list was final. "Microsoft recently posted a web page designed to test the Windows Vista help system that included incomplete information about the Windows Vista product line up. This page has since been removed as it was posted prematurely and was for testing purposes only."
While rumors of Vista SKUs -- what names, what each will include -- have been circulating for more than a year, all are consistent in coming up with a tally that exceeds Windows XP's five client flavors of Home, Professional, Media Center Edition, Tablet PC Edition, and Professional x64 Edition.
As JupiterResearch analyst Joe Wilcox cautioned against making too much of the list -- "the information clearly is incomplete" he wrote on his blog Tuesday -- he did allude to the hard row Microsoft has to hoe to market Vista if it throws a bunch of SKUs at users.
"Windows' major market is the U.S., and there it's safe to say that most consumers or businesses that want Windows have it and that most customers that have it are satisfied with the version they've got," he said. "Microsoft's priority needs to be showing customers why what they've got isn't good enough. The more complex the messaging, the more difficult it will be to show customers the 'better enough' benefits."
His advice to Redmond: "…any Windows Vista marketing plan should simply and clearly convey straightforward benefits."
Wait a minute, said analyst Michael Cherry, of Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft. "I just don't see how having more SKUs hurts Microsoft," Cherry said. "The real issue isn't that it hurts Microsoft, since in a certain sense it transfers the burden to the channel.
"Suppose I go into Staples, buy a new HP computer and when I set it up, find out that it comes with Windows XP Home. But I really wanted Windows XP Professional," said Cherry. "Am I mad at Microsoft? Or am I mad at Staples, or HP?
"It’s the retailer that has to figure out how to keep multiple SKUs in inventory, and it’s the OEM that has to figure out how to image multiple versions of an OS."
In fact, he says, it's to Microsoft's benefit to flood the channel with as many SKUs of Vista as possible. "It's motivated to actually increase [the number," Cherry said. "That gives Microsoft a chance to upsell someone to a higher-priced SKU before they make their final decision."
That final decision won't be coming soon, said Microsoft. "We will share more information about the Windows Vista line up in the coming weeks," a spokesperson said.
The company has promised to release the operating system before the end of 2006; last week, chief executive Steve Ballmer said that Microsoft was shooting for Vista on in-store PCs by Thanksgiving.