Well, the word is out. Microsoft has finally confirmed the number of Windows 7 SKUs (stock keeping units) that it will foist upon the marketplace next fall.
Unlike with Windows Vista, which confused consumers by being offered in six entirely different versions, Microsoft plans to streamline the Windows 7 buying-decision process by offering it in only six moderately different versions. Brilliant, no?
So, to recap: Instead of selling six versions of its old OS, Microsoft will be offering six versions of the new one. And they say you can't teach an old DOS new tricks.
The good news: Each successive version will be a superset of the previous one. Which means all the things that annoyed you in the basic version will be present throughout the entire product line. That's what I call "riding a new wave of innovation."
Here's a quick rundown of the Windows 7 lineup.
Windows 7 Home Premium. This one features all the great bells and whistles you've come to expect from Vista Home Premium. In fact, it is Vista Home Premium, but in a spiffy new box. (Don't tell anyone; it will be our little secret.)
Windows 7 Professional. This version uses exactly the same code as Home Premium, only it has a fancier splash screen and costs US$200 more per copy.
Windows 7 Amateur. Similar to the Professional version, except that Windows Explorer randomly deletes important files, spelling and grammar checkers introduce errors into your documents, and Windows Mail randomly sends really funny e-mails to everyone in your address book.
Windows 7 Green. New eco-friendly version of Windows that cranks down CPU cycles to roughly six per second, improving energy conservation. Because it's built on the Vista rendering engine, most users won't notice any difference.
Windows 7 Secure. This is the version to use if you're planning to surf the Internet, send e-mail, connect to a corporate network, or do anything besides playing Mah Jong. Improved User Account Controls perform a quick iris scan to determine that you are in fact the machine's owner before launching applications. New security software detects when you've got crushing deadlines and chooses those moments to update Windows, scan your drives for malware, and perform a forced reboot.
Windows 7 Executive. This replaces the Aero interface with a big smiley face that converts with a click of the mouse to an impressive but utterly useless business analytics dashboard and/or porn. Designed for busy CEOs who never learned how to operate a computer, it ships with a custom keyboard featuring a large round "Any" key in the center.
Microsoft wishes to emphasize that all six versions will run on any machine, including netbooks, mobile phones, Dymo labelers, and select brands of toaster ovens. The company also plans to introduce a new labeling system vendors can use to differentiate their devices, based on their processing power. The labels will include Windows 7 Capable, Windows 7 Barely Adequate, and Windows 7 Better Go Grab a Frappuccino This Is Going to Take a While.
Despite all of the variations, however, Microsoft says that for most consumers Windows 7 will really boil down to two versions: the one you purchased, and the one you wish you'd gotten instead.