No sooner was the Windows 8 Consumer Preview available for download than people went tearing through it looking for any clues or information not disclosed by Microsoft. This is almost a sport among MacOS/ iOS users, who routinely find references to new products in operating system betas.
Windows 8 beta users hit their own jackpot while rifling through the Registry with references to nine different versions of the forthcoming operating system. If you have it installed on a test machine, you can find it for yourself under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Component Based Servicing\PackageIndex\Product. The list contains the following SKUs (stock keeping units):
And that's not counting the 32-bit and 64-bit versions. The ARM edition will likely not be sold at retail but only available through tablet OEMs. Windows 7 has a modest six different versions, in 32-bit and 64-bit flavors: Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise.
Microsoft was quick to point out that this is still the beta, not final product. "We have not yet determined the editions or SKUs we will have for Windows 8. During the testing process, we routinely listen to customer feedback in finalizing our offerings, to ensure they are competitive in the marketplace and offer a compelling value proposition to customers," said a spokesperson for the company.
Meanwhile, Mac OS X has ... one version.
"Apple's not the slightest bit perturbed by not having multi versions of its OS. But it turns out enterprise users aren't as pleased with OS X because it doesn’t offer the manageability features Microsoft has offered with its enterprise client," said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, a market research firm.
That reflects the difference in approaches: Microsoft welcomes the enterprise, Apple flat out wants nothing to do with it. Steve Jobs told the Wall Street Journal back in 2010 "What I love about the consumer market, that I always hated about the enterprise market, is that we come up with a product, we try to tell everybody about it, and every person votes for themselves."
Kay said Microsoft has the array of SKUs to serve different customers. "They do it because they have large audiences that are kind of particular. They will explain why this audience needs this particular SKU and why another audience needs another," he said, adding that it also creates "a messy product portfolio which can be difficult to handle."
It also helps to upsell. Microsoft has the cheap Starter edition, but it's so bare bones that no one other than netbook users want it, and netbooks are dying on the vine thanks to tablets. So people buy the more expensive editions of the OS.
"I understand why they do it to maximize their average selling price. But it is a bit confusing for consumers and they would be probably be better off with fewer choices," said Kay.
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