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HP caught with SIX Windows 8 PC packages up its sleeve

Home, Ultimate and Starter revamped?

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Windows 8 is being re-packaged into six versions in a move that looks like it might kill off four editions of the desktop client currently sold.

Documents posted on PC-partner Hewlett-Packard’s website here and picked up here say Windows 8 will come as a Windows 8 32- and 64-bit Edition, and an Enterprise and Professional Edition – both in 32-and 64-bit flavors.

It’s not clear, based on these documents, whether these are all the SKUs Microsoft has planned for the forthcoming Windows 8 or whether these are just the versions of Windows 8 that will be available on machines sold by HP.

If this is everything, then it’s almost certainly the end of Windows 7 Ultimate at the high end and also of Windows 7 Home Premium and Home Basic.

It would also suggest the death of Windows 7 Starter, which came on low-end machines and netbooks via the OEM and missed things like the Aero interface.

It'll mean consumers and those not on an enterprise agreement will have four versions of Windows to pick from: 32-bit and 64-bit editions of Windows 8 Edition and Professional Edition. Based on past experience, Enterprise Edition will remain something you can only buy under a Microsoft volume license or Software Assurance programme.

If HP’s documents prove to be the complete picture, then this means a significant change in the way Microsoft packages and sells different versions of Windows.

Being a software company, Microsoft’s goal is to up-sell you to more expensive versions of its products. On that basis, it has traditionally segmented Windows and offered more tantalising features for either the business or consumer user at a higher price.

For example, Windows Home Premium ($182.07) contained Media Center, which was missing in Home Basic ($99.99), while Enterprise had BitLocker drive encryption but was sold only under an Enterprise licence – meaning individuals who wanted the Enterprise features had to buy Ultimate ($239.88).

In realty, the SKUs have been largely cosmetic exercises designed to support and justify the practice of upselling: holding back Media Center from Home Basic knowing that’s what most consumers would really desire or packing some hard-core enterprise bits into Ultimate along with Media Center found in Home Premium.

The Reg had written about Microsoft’s SKU obsession around the launch of Windows 7 and also called for simplification. We’ve also covered how it has bred a kind of pricing and discounting madness in Microsoft around launch time.

Tellingly, Windows chief Steven Sinofsky wrote on the Windows 8 blog here in September 2011 on the subject of SKUs: “Interestingly, the feedback about Media Center was predominantly 'we will pay extra, just include it' based on the input directly to me. Today Media Center is part of 'premium' SKUs for Windows, which means that is the case today."

Sinofsky has not yet detailed the Windows 8 SKUs and Microsoft did not comment on the Windows 8 SKUs at the time of writing.

Fewer, more clearly designed SKUs would at least let shoppers feel less like they are being bilked and would help PC makers sell machines with clearly defined features – rather than runts stuck with truncated versions of an operating system. It might also mean, based on Sinofsky’s comments, that we see slightly higher prices for Windows 8 to accommodate the package rationalisation.

All this would mean, dare we say, that Microsoft is becoming even more like Apple, which sells just a single edition of its desktop operating system, minus the SKUs.

Bootnote

Microsoft has begun talking about forthcoming features in the next edition of Visual Studio, Visual Studio 2011. The Windows developer tools suite will add support for Windows 8 and include .Net 4.5, support for asynchronous programming in C# and Visual Basic. More HTML5 and CSS 3 tooling for ASP.Net are also planned. You can read more here. ®

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