All XP upgrades will require a clean installation

Many had feared that Microsoft would release seven editions of Windows 7 and confuse consumers with too many choices. Those fears are only somewhat unfounded, as Microsoft has now disclosed that there will be six editions of Windows 7. However, not all of them will be available to consumers.

The six editions are Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate. All editions will be available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. There are also plans for at least 34 localized language versions as well.

DailyTech previously reported that 64-bit versions of Windows 7 will be the most popular, as moving from 32-bit to 64-bit versions will require a clean installation. All upgrades from Windows XP will also require a clean installation, due to the Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) introduced in Vista. You won't need a clean install to upgrade from Vista, but that will be the preferred option for advanced users.

The Starter edition is targeted almost exclusively at netbooks and ultra low end computers, as it has a limit of three applications running at the same time. It will only be offered pre-installed by an OEM.

Home Basic, on the other hand, is what most low end computers in developing countries will be using. It lacks the Aero interface, Live Thumbnail Previews, Internet Connection Sharing, and other features, but has no limits on the number of applications. As such, it is not likely to be sold in North America or the European Union.

The majority of Windows 7 shipments will be the Home Premium edition. It comes with the Aero Glass interface, touch screen controls, a new Mobility Center for laptops, and improved media codecs, as well as several other features. The HomeGroups networking system is something in particular that Microsoft has been highlighting.

The Professional edition has additional features, such as location aware printing, domain joining, group policy controls, a presentation mode, and offline folder access.

The Enterprise edition adds Branch Cache, DirectAccess and Bitlocker hard drive encryption for both internal and external drives. It also has improved support for virtualization. Branch Cache is a file caching option for branch offices of large corporations, designed to reduce access times to centrally managed files. DirectAccess is designed for corporate networks based on Windows Server 2008 R2, which is the server version of Windows 7. AppLocker is a centrally managed, rule-based group policy program for specifying which applications can run that is sure to annoy corporate users, but it will make admins happy.
The Ultimate edition includes all of the above features, but not much else. Microsoft is still considering what features to add to it in order to justify its price, since it is basically the Enterprise edition with a few extras. There are a few good options here, such as building in Windows 7 Sysinternals, or adding Windows 7 PowerToys.

Microsoft is pushing Home Premium for consumers and Professional at SMBs (Small & Medium Businesses). OEM licensing is expected to be key, as over 75 percent of Windows sales are based on OEM installations of new computers. Home Premium and Professional will also be the key Windows 7 products on retail shelves.

The Enterprise edition is targeted more at Fortune 1000 companies through its Volume Licensing program, and will not be available at retail. The Ultimate Edition will be available at retail, but will also boast a corresponding price. OEM sales of the Ultimate Edition will likely be limited to high-end systems targeted at the prosumer market.

Each edition builds on the previous edition. For example, the Enterprise edition contains all the features of Home Premium, as well as Professional. Because of this, all of the data for all editions is contained on one DVD. This allows an electronic upgrade to be accomplished quickly. Theoretically, you can upgrade from the Starter edition to the Ultimate edition within fifteen minutes, once Microsoft sends the electronic authorization to your computer.

No pricing information has been announced.

"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes
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