Have you or somebody you know experienced confusion with Windows Vista because of the large number of versions? While I admit that I was never confused by the version differences other than the fact that I found the whole idea stupid, it seems that Microsoft wants to create more confusion yet again with 5 versions of Windows 7.
Late last week, a screenshot surfaced from what is supposedly build 7025 of Windows 7 showing 5 different versions of Windows 7. Apparently Microsoft didn’t get the memo that having so many versions is confusing to the average consumer. The average consumer doesn’t understand the differences between Home Basic, Home Premium, or Ultimate, rather less business or anything else. Few consumers know what the different features are at the time of purchase rather less if they will use it. The average Joe doesn’t understand things like full drive encryption or some of the media capabilities that come with Windows. Unfortunately, Microsoft has taken the route of confusion instead of making things easy on the consumer.
Of course this is better for Microsoft than it is the consumer. Rather than trying to limit customer confusion and be the customer friendly operating system, they try to make money by making people think that premium is better than basic and ultimate is better than both and trying to get consumers to purchase them whether they need it or not based on the fact that it sounds better. After reading the book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely (I cannot recommend this book enough, it is great!), I completely understand what they are doing here but I don’t believe it is a good thing for the consumer or Microsoft.
Windows 7 Starter is likely the most stripped down piece of crap version of Windows 7 there is (I am not saying that Windows 7 is crap, I actually love it, I am just comparing it based on the names of the other SKUs). Assuming this isn’t a completely stripped down version for Netbooks (the beta which is Ultimate runs quite well on netbooks), Microsoft actually expects to sell few if any of this version. Why have this version you ask? To make the others look better. If the price difference isn’t that huge, the average person is going to go for the version that sounds better. Microsoft is simply trying to capitalize on this.
The bad part about this strategy is that it leads to confusion. What is the difference between the versions? What is the best bang for my buck? What features do they have? Will I ever use these features? Are there better third party alternatives to what is offered built in? These are only some of the bigger questions that the average consumer is stuck with when you have so many different versions. If you want to be seen as the most consumer friendly version, especially with companies such as Apple gaining strength, confusion should be your enemy.
I will admit that just having a single version of Windows isn’t necessarily the best answer. I believe that there should only be 2 versions of Windows, a business version and a home version for everybody else. Much like the business version of Vista, the Business version of Windows 7 should have things such as full hard drive encryption, more protection against hardware failure, remoting support among other things that the average consumer doesn’t really need. Of course there are plenty of other vendors that sell such software, so if there are any power users out there that need this functionality, they can easily get it. Business should also be stripped of some of the media capabilities since it is usually better to have employees working rather than streaming movies to their Xbox. The consumer version on the other hand should have a plethora of media capabilities and the stuff that the consumers might want to do.
That said, I know there are some consumers that want some of the business features such as the hard drive encryption but don’t want to use other software such as TrueCrypt. I also understand that some businesses are very media focused. My solution to this is to have a store where you can buy certain features of the other version if necessary. By using a method such as this, people will get what they want on their machine without all of the other crap. This would greatly simplify things and make it much easier for consumers to determine what they need and get it instead of being up-sold to the Ultimate or whatever version so you can have the features of everything even if you don’t need it.
Get rid of the Starter, Home Basic, and Home Premium and Ultimate versions and just call it Windows 7 Home and then the Windows 7 Business version. Two versions is all you need. Anything more and it causes confusion. If Microsoft wants to put Vista behind them, they need to fix the mistakes they made with Vista and I believe this is probably the biggest one.