Still the madness continues

One of my earliest posts was a jibe at the crazy notion of selling numerous different versions of Vista.

It seems that the madness is set to continue with Windows 7, as Microsoft have confirmed that there will be six different versions.

In theory they are simply doing what other companies do in order to maximise profits – they segment their customers into different groups and target each group with a different product. This allows them to sell their product at the highest price that each group will bear – the less affluent groups purchasing the cut-down-but-cheaper product, and the most affluent group buying the fully-featured-but-expensive product.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this approach – in the UK at least – is Tesco. They have, broadly speaking, three ranges of self-branded products. At the lowest end are the “Tesco Value” products for consumers on a tight budget. In the middle is the collection of items just labelled as “Tesco”. Finally there is the “Finest” range for those with a greater disposable income.

This works well for Tesco, so why shouldn’t Microsoft do the same? Well there’s a world of difference between an operating system and a packet of pasta…

  • Whether you buy Tesco Value Spaghetti or Finest Spaghetti might have an effect on the taste of your meal – but it won’t affect your ability to cook it in the first place. With six versions of Windows, anyone buying the lower-featured versions may find that they are unable to run certain software which requires features that are only available in the more expensive versions.
  • Your choice of spaghetti doesn’t affect how many other ingredients you can throw into your bolognese. With the very lowest version of Windows 7 users will be artificially restricted to only running a maximum of three applications at a time.
  • You get to choose the quality of your spaghetti independently of the quality of the beef or tomatoes. In the case of computers many consumers just buy a bundled package with the operating system already installed. You don’t necessarily get a free choice to pick which of the versions of Windows you want independently of the computer you want.
  • Tesco segment the market into three broad groups. Microsoft are trying to segment it into six groups. Consider a trip to the supermarket in which you have to choose between Tesco Super-Value Spaghetti, Tesco Value Spaghetti, Tesco Spaghetti, Tesco Super Spaghetti, Tesco Finest Spaghetti and Tesco Ultimate Spaghetti.

It’s the very lowest, “Windows 7 Starter” version that I find most confusing. Will people really pay good money for an operating system that limits them to only running three applications at a time, when they could get a completely unrestricted Linux distribution for free? Unfortunately I suspect that the answer is “yes” 🙁

But perhaps Microsoft are shooting themselves in the foot with “Windows 7 Starter”. Perhaps three applications is enough after all, provided one of them is a decent web browser such as Firefox (rather than a godawful one like Internet Explorer!). With more and more people using web-based applications, perhaps a limit of three applications isn’t so bad. Who needs a PC to run more than three applications, when your web browser acts as a meta-OS that can run dozens of them?

Back in 1995, before Microsoft effectively killed any competition in the web browser market for a few years, Marc Andreessen, co-author of the first widely used web browser, predicted that the web would displace the need for Windows, turning it into a “poorly debugged set of device drivers”. Perhaps with “Windows 7 Starter” that day has finally arrived.

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