The product breakdown for Microsoft Windows 7 was recently released and posted on the website WinSuperSite.com. There was nothing really new about the number of versions that Microsoft will release, we always knew there would be a fair number. What was interesting was the chart showing the various features of the different versions. The Home Basic and Starter versions have a very limited number of features but we always knew that and most people in developed countries will never see those versions. The Ultimate version came with everything, just like Vista Ultimate had. The Enterprise version is not going to be sold at retail so we can ignore it. That leaves two versions that will make up the majority of purchases; Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional.
Most computers that are sold in the retail market will come with Home Premium, just as they did with Vista. I was looking down the list of things that separate the Home Premium version and the Professional version and I have to say, the list is short. In fact there are only 9 features that are missing in Home Premium that are included with Professional. Most of the features that are missing in Home Premium are not that important, but it seems strange to exclude them because they aren’t exactly things that would get in the way of the average home user. Being able to use remote desktop host or location aware printing don’t seem like things that necessarily needed to be removed from Home Premium but they have been. It is as if Microsoft took a complete version of Windows 7 and said, “what can we take out to make another SKU here?”
The biggest and strangest exclusion is that of Windows XP mode, which is supposed to be a strong selling point for Windows 7. This is the virtualization software that will allow programs that are incompatible with Windows Vista and 7 to run inside a virtual Windows XP machine. This is similar to what Apple did for the first few versions of OS X, including a full copy of OS 9 in a virtual machine for backwards compatibility.
The justification for this exclusion seems to be that home users will have upgraded all of their out of date peripherals by now and gamers would never be happy with the performance of XP in a virtual environment. So Microsoft has decided to only included it in the Professional version strictly for businesses that may have out of date software that they need but won’t run on the newer operating systems. Since the XP mode is a download from Microsoft and isn’t actually included on the DVD it seems strange to exclude something that could be such a selling point from the home consumer market. XP mode would be a great selling point for people looking to upgrade to a new operating system or to a new computer but have lingering doubts about moving away from their familiar operating system. But now they will have to buy a business class machine or pay above and beyond Home Premium just to get a feature that literally costs Microsoft nothing to include.
In fact, having two versions that are so similar is wasting money and raising prices for the consumer due to packaging and printing costs of producing two products instead of one. If Microsoft wanted to help undo some of the damage to their image that Vista has done, they would drop the Home Premium version altogether and release the Professional version in its place and lower the price to the Home Premium level. It would not only make the consumers happy, but the retailers and computer manufacturers alike.