Microsoft has been no stranger to unusual names. We scoffed when they named XP, and we scoffed again when they named Vista. However Windows 7 sets a new level of bewilderment. Depending on how you wish to count your Windows versions, you can come up with an order that makes Windows 7 the 7th version of Windows - counting the NT kernel desktop releases is one such example - but ultimately the list is as arbitrary as the name.

With the exception of NT4, Microsoft has always made at least two versions of Windows per major kernel, with the second releases being a refinement of what came before rather than a massive rearchitecting. Win98 refined Win95, WinXP refined Win2K. And Windows 7, as it turns out, refines Vista (even if MS wants to get as far from that name as possible). Windows 7’s kernel is recognized by Microsoft as version 6.1, and Vista was 6.0. While it’s true that kernel version numbers can be equally arbitrary, in this case it’s an appropriate number.

As Vista’s refinement, Windows 7 doesn’t bring with it anywhere near the level of change that Vista brought. With Vista we saw a new networking stack, a radically new video driver model, the moving of audio completely into software, UAC, and more. Meanwhile Windows 7 includes a number of new features, but nothing comparable to Vista’s great overhaul. If you’re a feature warrior looking for something big like Vista, you’re going to come away disappointed. If you’re looking for a smoother transition however Windows 7 should meet those expectations.

And for the name, clearly it’s a bad choice. The return to some kind of version numbering scheme is actually rather nice – it’s normally less arbitrary than a name and leaves no confusion about what order things come in – but to use a version numbering scheme you have to be consistent. Unless Microsoft intends to skip a kernel version number so that Windows 8 runs on the 8.0 kernel, this is only going to get worse as time goes on. It also has the interesting distinction of being harder to search for; “Win7” is a character too short for many sites that require a minimum term length, and “Windows 7” will be read by most software as two separate terms which can be pulled from anywhere.

So it may sound petty, but Microsoft could have picked something more sensible than Windows 7. (Ed: On the other hand, it still is less arbitrary than most CPU and GPU names)

Moving on, we have the matter of the different editions of Windows 7. Microsoft has not completely clarified this matter so we’re going to need to revisit this when Windows 7 finally ships, but they have given us enough solid information to accurately talk about the important bits.

The biggest news is that the Ultimate/Business/Home Premium schism has been resolved with Windows 7. When WinXP Home and Pro were split into more versions, the “everything including the kitchen sink” edition of Windows that was Pro and became Ultimate also became really, really expensive compared to the other editions. The problem was a combination of pricing and how Microsoft decided to split up features and at the same time carve out an extremely high-end niche. Users on Home Premium couldn’t get Remote Desktop. Users on Business couldn’t get Media Center and the built-in MPEG-2 codec. Meanwhile Business was priced higher than Home Premium, but it wasn’t a superset of Home Premium. Ultimate offered everything, but it also included a number of Enterprise features that were useless for even most users. Ultimately power users who wanted something similar to WinXP Pro (mainly, remote desktop and file encryption) were left in a pickle, and everyone else was confused on what edition to get.

With Windows 7, all editions have once again become supersets of other editions, going from Starter to Ultimate. Furthermore, Business edition has been renamed (back) to Professional to reflect this change, and with the return to being a superset of Windows Home Premium it regains its multimedia abilities. For all intents and purposes, Professional is once again the power-user and business user edition. The difference in turn between it and Enterprise/Ultimate has been reduced to BitLocker, Virtual Hard Disk booting, and some other associated enterprise-level features.

This change also marks a collapse in how many versions of Windows 7 are on the retail market. Only Home Premium and Professional will be widely sold at retail and shipped on OEM computers. Enterprise continues to be for volume use, and Home Basic has been demoted to just “emerging markets.” The unknowns at this point are where Starter and Ultimate will best fit in. There is some concern that Starter will find its way onto netbooks in developed markets in order to meet the kind of OS prices that such a cheap computer demands, however we can’t imagine such a castrated OS going over well with users. Previously it has been limited to the cheapest of the cheapest computers in emerging markets.

Meanwhile Microsoft is calling Ultimate a “limited retail and OEM” product, which we take to mean it won’t be sold on store shelves and instead would be limited to specialty retailers like Newegg, and pre-installed on few if any systems. There’s clearly going to be a need for a non-volume license edition of Enterprise (which is the role Ultimate fills) but Professional significantly reduces the practical value of it. Ultimate may very well end up being the pirate edition of Windows 7, because right now there’s even less going for it than what’s going for Vista Ultimate. Hopefully Microsoft will clarify this before Windows 7 launches.

Windows 7: A New Marketing Approach Getting Dirty: What’s Changing Under the Hood


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  • izal169 - Thursday, July 2, 2009 - link

    development of the technology is quite rapid. My computer specifications are not strong for Windows 7 that high quality. specification of my computer, intel core 2 duo, 1 Gb RAM, VGA Nvidia 7300 GS. microsoft is very cool. can make the OS with a relatively quick time.
  • deteugma - Friday, June 5, 2009 - link

    I was an XP diehard until I installed Windows 7. Now I'm a convert and a proselytizer. I love Windows 7. It will be the first version Windows that I actually buy for myself, rather than accept for free from a family member's employer (university license). MS won't have trouble winning converts from the diehard crowd. Reply
  • Biomorphic - Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - link

    Windows 7 has software based audio processing just like Windows Vista and my question is, will VXP enable hardware based audio processing or will it remain software based? Reply
  • PC Reviewer - Monday, May 18, 2009 - link

    it looks alright as long as its performance is as good as, if not better than xp's. Im looking to do a review about Windows 7 on my blog soon aswell. http://www.pcreviewer.org">http://www.pcreviewer.org Reply
  • alon - Sunday, May 17, 2009 - link

    First, I did not read all the comments, so if this has already been stated, I do apologize. For that matter, after the "Standard Test Bed" page I stopped reading the article. So .. maybe these issues have already been discussed.

    1) OK, so Vista x64 SP2 was released around May 11th (at least for my MSDN subscription, possibly earlier for others?) And it appears that the Windows 2008 SP2 bits were released around May
    14th. I still don't see an SP2 installer, but I can do a clean install with SP2 already slipstreamed. So ... I've looked and looked, but I can not find an XP Pro x64 SP3 anywhere. And according to Microsoft around last September, there was not going to be an WinXP Pro x64 SP3. So ... if you do have this SP3 around ... please let me know what MSDN/TechNet or whatever subscription you have so I can upgrade mine ... or point me to the release page.
    2) Concerning corporate IT ... one of the issues mentioned at the beginning of the article is the computing resources needed to run Vista ... which to me alludes to the fact that many companies chose not to upgrade to Vista based on HW requirements (of course Vista without Aero can run on many "lower" configurations, but of course the average company employee does not know this). I digress ... your test bed platform is not really anything that CorporateIT depts will be deploying. Core i7 ... released 7 months ago ... 6GB RAM. Please ... if you are going to try and "proove" that performance is decent with Windows 7 ... at least run some test systems that are not the toys we dream of, but the systems that are installed in the office. Until Microsoft and folks like you understand that companies can not afford to always buy new HW, the new OSs have to run on the last generation technology (actually more like HW from 2 years ago) ... your comparisons and results are useless ... and my 18month old Lenovo T61 does exactly what I need it to do. So, there would be no reason to upgrade to Win7 until MS End-of-lifes WinXP.
  • Razer2911 - Wednesday, May 13, 2009 - link

    Moving on from Vista 32, I have to say i'm impressed. There are very subtle changes and tweaks which actually make the experience better. A simple example would be the new taskbar, Jump lists and Aero peek feature. I for one dont like a million windows open on my desktop, somehow i always found it cumbersome and cluttered but within a couple of hours of using Windows 7 i found myself using 10-15 windows without getting bothered by the clutter. Never used a Mac but these new features actually have both form and function.
    One thing that i have not been able to figure out as yet is that all my videos (divx) and movies look very grainy and slightly pixelated on WMP 12 and VLC.
  • tomb18 - Tuesday, May 12, 2009 - link

    Support for canadian television in canada has always been limited in Media Center. Since HD digital over the air broadcasts (atsc)became available in the US, this has been supported in Media Center but not if you lived in Canada. Digital tuners are DISABLED by media center in all versions including Windows 7. This is in spite of the fact that canada uses the same ATSC system as the US. Many hacks have appeared but they always seem to be disabled by updates. This continues in Windows 7. As soon as the software determines that you reside in Canada, it disables the ATSC tuner.

    But get this. South Korea uses the same ATSC standard and it IS supported in that country.

    There are a lot of forums (such as the green button, run by the media center developers)that discuss this to no avail. No amount of questions, emails, or anything will get a comment from Microsoft. Even when MSVP's try to take up the battle nothing gives.

    There has been a lot of hope for Windows 7, that it would finally be supported, but alas, it is the status quo. My question is will Microsoft give a warning about the version of Windows 7 that contain media center for the canadian market telling canadians that their digital tuners will not work?

    I really wish that some website with industry influence (hint...hint) would expose this pointing out to the canadian market that they should not buy Windows 7 if they want to use the media center.
  • AnnihilatorX - Tuesday, May 12, 2009 - link

    Replace the function of minimising other windows with one that makes the window being shaked always on top. Now this is a useful function.

    Nevertheless I have been using AutoHotkey (automation programming platform) to assign Alt+z hotkey to make windows always on top in other windows. This is a feature I can't live without, along with Windows key + Scroll wheel on mouse to change transparency. These had help me multitask with different windows very efficiently.
  • rasmasyean - Sunday, May 10, 2009 - link

    I think people might have over-estimated Vista as the OS that will sweep across the world and change computers as we know it over-night. It didn't exactly turn out as expected, but I don't think it doesn't seem it did too bad.

    Gartner research report predicted that Vista business adoption in 2008 will actually beat that of XP during the same time frame (21.3% vs. 16.9%)[80] while IDC had indicated that the launch of Windows Server 2008 served as a catalyst for the stronger adoption rates.[81][82] As of January 2009, Forrester Research had indicated that almost one third of North American and European corporations have started deploying Vista.[83]

  • compuser2010 - Sunday, May 10, 2009 - link

    "Never underestimate the power of marketing – many people can tell you they don’t like Vista, few can tell you why."

    I don't like Vista primarily because of built-in Digital Rights Management (DRM). Any time I need to capture, edit and/or transcode audio and/or video, I need to go back to XP.

    I have confirmed this with the following programs:

    Audacity 1.2.6
    Canopus EDIUS Broadcast 4.61
    Creative Labs Smart Recorder 2.40.23
    Moyea FLV to Video Converter Pro 2
    Ulead DVD Workshop 2

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