February 25, 2012, 6:40 AM — Microsoft will probably trim the number of Windows 8 editions it will sell later this year, but won't mimic Apple's online-only approach to OS upgrades, a retail sales analyst said today.
In developed countries, including the U.S., Microsoft offers Windows 7 in four SKUs, or editions: Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate. All but Enterprise -- available only to volume licensees such as major corporations -- are sold to the general public.
Evidence uncovered by ZDNet blogger Stephen Chapman -- who found a list of Windows 8 SKUs on a pair of Hewlett-Packard support documents -- hints at just three editions of the upcoming OS: a generic "Windows 8," Professional and Enterprise.
Missing from that list: Ultimate.
"There had been interest in Windows 7 Ultimate," said Stephen Baker, an analyst with the NPD Group, but sales were skimpy and vastly outnumbered by Home Premium and Professional.
Baker expects that, if Microsoft does produce a Windows 8 Ultimate edition, it would be an OEM-only SKU. In other words, Microsoft would drop it from retail and offer it only to computer makers to pre-install on high-end PCs.
The two retail editions for Windows 8 will most likely be Home Premium -- perhaps renamed -- for consumers, and Professional for businesses or consumers who need to connect to their workplace network, said Baker.
Enterprise would remain as the upgrade SKU dealt to volume license customers.
Dropping Ultimate from the Windows 8 list would fit with Microsoft's demotion of that edition in Windows 7. Three years ago and several months before Windows 7 launched, Microsoft confirmed that it was dropping the heavily-criticized "Ultimate Extras" from the version.
Microsoft first pitched Ultimate Extras in the Ultimate edition of Windows Vista, but buyers blasted the company for a sluggish release pace of the add-ons that Extras had promised.
Windows 7 came in two other editions -- Starter and Home Basic -- but both were exiled to emerging markets as part of Microsoft's strategy to offer lower-priced versions that could better compete with the rampant piracy in some countries. The company could retain those developing-markets-only SKUs for Windows 8.
Microsoft has not yet disclosed how many versions of Windows 8 for PCs it will sell, and today declined to share more information about its plans.