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Memo to Microsoft: Enough with the SKUed Windows

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Windows 7 for netbooks?

Reports on Thursday surfaced that Microsoft is planning a version of the forthcoming Windows 7 for netbooks. The company squashed these reports, saying it's not yet ready to discuss packaging and version plans for Windows 7 other than to confirm Windows 7 "will run on netbooks."

That Windows 7 is being built to run on netbooks should come as little surprise to anyone paying attention during Microsoft's Professional Developers' Conference (PDC) last year. Microsoft said it's speeding performance, improving battery life, and boosting start times precisely so Windows 7 can run on netbooks, which have a smaller footprint than a regular PC.

Microsoft, though, should take the arrival of a new version of Windows to resist its past practices of market segmentation. Less SKUs would help Microsoft, customers and OEMs. It'll help customers who get the chance to get all the features without feeling like they are being bilked. It'll also make the purchasing choice easier when it comes to deciding between different PCs based on the version of Windows they are running - should they even be looking at this.

Fewer SKUs will help OEMS know which operating system to pick for clearly defined markets. They can then market and sell these machines, without trampling other lines of PCs. This would feed down into the channel too.

For Microsoft, fewer SKUs will help control development and marketing expenses on different SKUs in an era when, by its own admission, it's looking for ways to cut costs.

Now, when people get on this topic, the example of Apple and its single operating system are frequently cited as the way to go.

All Windows users could certainly benefit from the efficiencies and streamlining of a Windows 7 for netbooks. But a single SKU? Microsoft and Windows serve different and bigger markets than Apple and OS X. They are supported by an ecosystem of hundreds of thousands of business and consumer applications with different business and leisure needs.

It would make more sense for Microsoft to embrace the simplicity of Apple by reducing its SKUs - but rather than a single version have two: one for consumers and one for businesses. The foundation should be the streamlined Windows 7 netbook design, and it should have features such as simpler networking and being the "best choice for laptops" everyone needs.

Above that foundation, though, Microsoft should differentiate with, say, the ability to burn DVDs and create high-definition movies for the consumer version while businesses get remote access and back up and protection against hardware failure.

But with talk of at least five Windows 7 SKUs coming and rumors of the netbook edition in the air, it seems this is unlikely to happen. ®

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