News hit yesterday of the different versions of Windows 7. Like Vista, Microsoft is going to ship several different versions that range from a crippled version up to a the beefy version that costs a whole lot of money. The idea is sound. Microsoft has to pay developer to develop and maintain features, some of which are only used by advanced users or by businesses. By offering a cheaper version of Windows that does not include these features, they are shifting the financial burden to the users with more needs than the average person. Why should the average consumer pay for features they will never need or know exists?
I think Microsoft did a good job of making this divide in XP. If you didn't know the difference bettwen XP Home and XP Pro, chances where you had no need for XP Pro. If you did know the difference, chances are it isn't that difficult for you to decide which one you need.
With Vista there are six different version planned for launch, Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate. This isn't just confusing for the average consumer, this becomes confusing even for technophiles. Microsoft has not yet released pricing.
Reportedly, Starter is for low end machines and protable devices. The report so far makes Start sound like a complete piece of crap. According to The Inquirer, it will only allow the user to run three programs at once. This artificial limitations is absolutely stupid. My XO, which is running much lower specs than the average netbook without much of a problem. It is also highly presumptuous of Microsoft to say "three programs" without any regard to the hardware specifications or the amount of resources the application uses. This means you could run three programs that use a lot of resources, but not four programs that have a smaller footprint. It is believe other functionality will be reduced, but neither the netbook nor low-end computer manufacturer get to have a say which features should be reduced or kept. It is simply a one size fits all job. Since many netbook manufacturers have been putting Linux on these devices because Vista is simply to bloated to offer a good user experience, I don't see what this does to enhance Microsoft's position.
Without dissecting the specifics of the other versions, it is suffice to say that it is just a list of versions that have features added or removed, depending on the target market. In light of Microsofts competition, which has made some small but significant strides in erroding market share in a post-Vista world, this really doesn't make Microsoft look good.
Apple sells their OSX with the current version being Leopard. The only other OS product they are currently selling is OSX server. The decision is clear, everyone buys Leopard unless they want a server. For $129 you get the full OS with all of the features and the improved security and stability offered over the Windows products.
With Linux the situation is not so clear because there are hundreds and hundreds of versions available, but the overwhelming consensus is that everyone should use Ubuntu unles they know enough about Linux to know why they would have a need or desire for any other version. Okay, it still isn't that easy because their is Ubuntu, Kubuntu, and Xubuntu each offering a different interface, but most people should probably just use Ubuntu unless they are technical enough to know why they would use something else. So while Linux doesn't exactly win in this category, it still beats the versioning of Windows.
The stock install of Ubuntu will run just fine on the lowest-end machines that are being sold today including the netbooks. It also scales up just fine to take advantage of a top of the line PC. It does this at install time by looking at your hardware specs and adjusting itself accordingly. It doesn't artificially lock you out of how many programs you can have open, or deny you access to features because you didn't spend more money.
Ubuntu also releases on a predictable schedule of every six months, and gives you a predictable life time of three years of support, while every so often releasing a version supported for five years. If a consumer decides to choose Linux it is very easy. You get the latest version of Ubuntu, no matter how low end or high end the machine you are purchasing, and don't worry about new versions for three years.
This is by no means a Windows bash. There are a lot of great improvements in Windows 7, especially with Internet Explorer 8. I just see their model of havng six different versions that go from needlessly crippled to needlessly expensive, when their competitors handle this in a much more consumer friendly fashion.