Information released about Windows Vista reveals that the next version of the Microsoft desktop operating system has three target audiences: consumers, small businesses and large enterprises.
Medium-sized businesses appear to be either lumped in with small businesses or large enterprises, and this group seems to be the main losers with the upgrade.
There are six main versions of the software (the same as for Windows XP, but bundled differently) and the principle is "good, better, best" in each category, without losing functionality as you move up the offerings.
For consumers there are three offerings, while for business there are two variants, with a third, Ultimate, also aimed at the small owner-manager business. A seventh variant is Emerging Markets, which is only available in certain qualifying countries.
However, there has been no mention of the widely reported European Union variant - under an EU ruling Microsoft was required to offer a version of Windows without any audio visual software, so computer makers could offer machines with other media players instead of the Windows product. Computer makers have not taken up the offer, but the ruling still exists.
The Home Basic version of Windows Vista offers a basic operating system with no control over the security and drivers, but with a parental control and monitoring feature. The user interface will be similar to all other variants but with reduced functionality and a less appealing look and feel.
Home Premium edition will be the mainstream consumer product, with an enhanced user interface, built-in Windows Media Center (providing DVD burning, video editing, and picture editing) and Tablet PC support.
Ultimate is a mixed business and consumer version targeted at small owner-managers and consumers. It combines all of Home (Premium and Basic), Business, and Enterprise variants. It does not, however, support volume licensing, and has no group policy, thus it is clearly aimed at installation on a single or small number of PCs only.
The mainstream Business version of Vista includes support for desktops and mobiles, and it has the choice of 32- or 64-bit, selectable at deployment rather than point of purchase. There is also a new small business feature section, including advanced back-up, fax and scan, and a specially developed help feature for non-technical owner managers.
The Enterprise version is the same as Business edition but aimed at global users or businesses with complex IT infrastructures. It is only available to users with annuity agreements (Enterprise Agreement or Software Assurance) and is available at no extra cost.
This provides the following extras over and above Business:
- Greater drive encryption through Bitlocker, which stores the key on the motherboard for a higher level of protection
- Vista is language-independent, enabling a single image to be deployed, but with different user interface languages, or have language selected by sign-on
- Ability to generate a single image for deployment (hardware-independent and file-based, not sector-based)
- Embedded Virtual PC Express with support for binary compatible Unix on the desktop.
The Emerging Markets edition will be similar to existing arrangements for developing countries. The product will be called Windows Starter 2007 and will only be available in 32-bit mode.
Overall no details about the size of the software's footprint, hardware requirements, or pricing have been released. But what was clear was that this signals Microsoft's aggressive move for the small business market, and with the emphasis on "good, better, best" it will obviously be tempting both consumer and small business customers to trade up.
The bundling of Media Center seems to fit with normal Microsoft practice, which will probably upset the industry watchers, and Bitlocker sounds like a lead-in to a method of licence verification, as well as forcing hardware manufacturers to adopt a Microsoft standard.
For enterprises, the single image will be a big advantage in deployment, but not much else, so deployment would need to be a big issue to make any company rush out and implement Vista when released.
Medium-sized companies are left in the cold. They must either make do with the more difficult to manage Business variant, or upgrade to Software Assurance to qualify for the Enterprise edition, but this will surely cause some to consider a move away from Microsoft, while forcing others to become even more Microsoft-centric.
As with all early announcements, this may not be the final line-up of the products, as I am sure this announcement will be reported widely and cause much online debate. Given that the release date is six to nine months away, it allows Microsoft time to change things if the temperature gets too hot.
Roy Illsley is a senior research analyst at Butler Group