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Report: Microsoft might rein in Windows 8 editions?

Documents briefly posted to Hewlett-Packard’s Web site indicate Microsoft may be considering offering Windows 8 to the public in fewer editions (or SKUs, short for stock-keeping unit) that it current does with Windows 7—even though Windows 8 will be expanding onto a whole new platform with ARM. First spotted by ZDNet’s Stephen Chapman, the documents have since been pulled from HP’s site, but seemed to indicate Microsoft may be ditching the little-loved “Basic” editions of Windows in favor of three tracks aimed at consumers, enterprise users, and high-end professionals:

  • Microsoft Windows 8 32 Edition
  • Microsoft Windows 8 64 Edition
  • Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise 32 Edition
  • Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise 64 Edition
  • Microsoft Windows 8 Professional 32 Edition
  • Microsoft Windows 8 Professional 64 Edition

If the numbers represent Microsoft’s thinking on Windows 8 SKUs—and there is absolutely no indication that they do—the move would indicate Microsoft is trying to simplify how it offers Windows to consumers. Presumably, the 32-bit editions would encompass offerings for ARM-based devices: current ARM processors are all 32-bit.

Beginning with Windows Vista (and continued with Windows 7), Microsoft has offered a bewildering array of SKUS for Windows: Windows Vista and Windows 7 have both shipped with a whopping eleven different versions—Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate)—with all but Starter available in 32- and 64-bit versions. The result is a confusion purchasing and upgrade decision for non-technical users, who don’t necessarily understand the differences between the versions or which features are includes or omitted from each.

Some elements in the Windows community have been urging Microsoft to adopt a single-SKU approach to Windows releases, so there’s no confusion about what version to get: there would be only one “Windows 8” for all users. Although Microsoft seems loathe to adopt this approach—the company just makes too much money from Enterprise licenses—the head of Microsoft’s Windows division Stephen Sinofsky has previously indicated the company is aware of the desire to simplify Windows’ editions.

Microsoft’s “Consumer Preview” of Windows 8 is expected to be unveiled this Wednesday, February 29, at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona.