MS: Six versions of Windows 7 for sake of PC makers, users

Windows 7 Home Premium aimed at the majority of consumers and Windows 7 Professional at businesses.

Windows 7 Starter Edition is even more limited than Home Basic, allowing users to open only a maximum of three applications at any given time. "We felt that was the right way to go," Ybarra said, as this version will be aimed at new PC users.

While Microsoft is making Windows 7 Starter Edition available for netbooks worldwide, Ybarra expects the majority of PC makers to pre-install Windows 7 Home Premium anyway.

Rosoff agrees, saying that PCs shipped with Windows 7 Home Premium will likely cost about US$50 more than those with Starter.

"On a $500 PC, I don't think customers will balk at paying an extra $50 for not having limitations such as the ability to open only three apps simultaneously," Rosoff said. "On a $200 PC (should such a thing ever emerge), that $50 might be a harder sell," Rosoff said in an e-mail.

Ybarra declined to disclose prices for any of the versions. He also declined to say how many 'N' versions of Windows 7, which lack Windows Media Player as per European Union rules, Microsoft will release in Europe.

He promised that users would be able to perform Windows Anytime Upgrades even more quickly with Windows 7 than with Vista. In Vista, users would pay at Microsoft's Web site to get a license key and then re-insert their Vista DVD to physically install the upgrade on the hard drive.

With Windows 7, all versions are already installed on the user's PC hard drive, meaning he or she pays and then "simply unlocks the features," Ybarra said. Total upgrade time should be between seven and 10 minutes, he said.

Except for Starter, which will come in 32-bit only, all flavors of Windows 7 will ship in both 32-bit and 64-bit editions, Ybarra said.

He added that Microsoft has no plans to release any more versions of Windows 7 after its initial release, as occurred with XP.

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