Microsoft recently made a global announcement on Windows Vista aimed at informing the analyst community about the product and the variants to be released later this year. These variants include offerings that signal Microsoft’s ambitions for small business customers, but appear to neglect the needs of medium-sized business users.
Vista has three clear target audiences; consumers, small businesses (owner managers), and large enterprises. The medium-sized business appears to be either lumped in with small businesses or large enterprises, and this group seems to be the main losers.
There are six main stock keeping units (SKUs) (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 the emerging markets, which is only available in certain qualifying countries.
There was, however, no mention of the widely reported European Union (EU) variant, as 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 variants announced were:
* Home Basic – Providing just that, a basic operating system with no control over the security, drivers etc., but with a parental control and monitoring feature. The user interface (UI) will be similar to all other variants but with reduced functionality and a less appealing look and feel.
* Home Premium – This will be the mainstream consumer product, with an enhanced UI, built-in Windows Media Center (providing DVD burning, video editing, and picture editing), and tablet PC support.
* Ultimate – This is a mixed business and consumer SKU, but 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 is clearly aimed at installation on a single or small number of PCs only.
* Business – Mainstream for business, this includes support for desktop and mobile, and it has the choice of 32- or 64-bit, selectable at deployment time 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.
* Enterprise – Same as Business but aimed at global customers or customers with complex IT infrastructures; however, this is only available to customers with annuity agreements (enterprise agreement or software assurance) and is available at no extra cost. This provides the following extras over and above Business: higher level of 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 have different UI languages, or a single PC with language selected by sign on; ability to generate a single image for deployment (hardware independent and file based, not sector based); and embedded Virtual PC Express with support for binary compatible Unix on the desktop.
* Emerging Markets – Not much was said about this other than it will be similar to existing arrangements. The SKU will be called Windows Starter 2007 and will only be available in 32-bit mode.
Overall, no details on the size of the footprint, hardware requirements, or pricing were given. 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 license verification – as well as forcing hardware manufactures 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.
The medium-sized company is 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 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 the announcement is likely to 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.
Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (www.butlergroup.com)