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Microsoft SKUs Windows 7 clarity

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Microsoft has announced how it will package Windows Vista's successor, Windows 7. And as ever, Microsoft has put segmentation ahead of clarity.

The one bright spot in Microsoft's Windows 7 news is that - contrary to some reports - it won't add a brand new edition solely for netbooks. Although even this is not that straight forward.

On Tuesday, the company said Windows 7 would come in six editions: Windows 7 Starter Edition, Home Basic, Premium, Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate.

Not that the news was presented like this. Microsoft led on the fact that "most" customers would be served by "two primary" editions - Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional that respectively target consumer and business users.

This showed Microsoft has become sensitive to the fact that it has confused customers and partners by offering so many different editions of the same version of Windows.

Piecing together what you can expect isn't easy. As it typically does at this stage in the roadmap cycle, Microsoft talked in vague terms of capabilities instead of features. Based on what we can tell (here, here and here), you will get:

Home Basic: This has been glossed over by Microsoft, but reports indicated a continuation of the Windows Vista Home Basic runt and versions of Windows that have been built for developing markets. So, the ability to run up just three applications concurrently and no Aero interface.

Home Premium: This will introduce Aero, Windows Media Center and media streaming.

Professional: Planned features will include group policy-based management tools, Encrypting File System and Location Aware Printing.

Enterprise and Ultimate: You'll get BitLocker data protection, and DirectAccess and BranchCache to connect to networks running Windows Server 2008 R2.

Simple, right? Depends.

It seems that Home Basic will be lobbed into sectors outside of what Microsoft calls "developed technology markets" - which it defines as the US, European Union, Australia and Japan. Customers in these markets are unlikely to see Home Basic. Instead, Microsoft will be happy just to get customers in the "developing technology markets" onto the Windows treadmill, steering them away from Linux or pirated copies of Windows.

In the consumer space, customers outside of developing technology markets will get Premium edition, which Microsoft described as a "full function PC experience and visually rich environment."

Here, things start to look confused - and threaten to unravel for Microsoft.

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