Windows ME may not have had much going for it, but it has one claim to fame: it was the last major release of Windows to come in a single edition, or SKU.

In the decade since Windows ME's release, every major release of desktop Windows has come in a wide variety of flavours.
By one count, Windows XP and Vista came in eight separate editions, if you include two Windows Media Player-free versions mandated by the European Union for anti-monopoly reasons.

Even Windows 2000, often romanticised for its small footprint, came in four versions. This increase in Windows edition has bewildered many consumers, and led even ardent Windows fans to make dark jokes.

Windows editions "I wonder whether Windows 7 will have 700 SKUs or if [Microsoft] will streamline that," said Andrew Brust, a technology consultant and Microsoft MVP, on his Twitter page.

Windows blogger Paul Thurrott said: "It is laughable. It's such a brazen play on their part to juice people for as much money as they can get."

This MBA textbook-style attempt to maximise revenue by divvying up features by customer segment is actually hurting Microsoft, said Rob Enderle, an independent analyst.

Windows 7 forum

He said Microsoft's decision to strip Active Directory features from consumer versions of Vista meant that workers running Macs at home or on personal laptops have an easier time connecting to their corporate network than many Vista users.

That is helping Apple gain the foothold in the enterprise it has long been denied, said Enderle.

"In effect, this screwy SKU thing has given Apple an advantage in enterprises that Microsoft has taken away from itself and probably will be one of the primary things slowing Windows 7 adoption" should it come in multiple editions, he said.

Windows 7 versions

How many editions will Windows 7 come in? A recent beta release of Windows 7 lists five versions during the installation process:

Windows 7 Starter Edition: a stripped-down version for customers in developing countries running underpowered hardware that has been around since XP

Windows 7 Home Basic: the controversial low-end consumer flavour introduced with Vista that Microsoft apparently debated whether or not to release

Windows 7 Home Premium: also introduced with Vista

Windows 7 Ultimate: introduced with Vista, the loaded-with-goodies version aimed at hard-core hobbyists

Windows 7 Business: introduced with Vista as the replacement to Professional for corporate use.

A Microsoft spokeswoman confirmed the five version names in the Windows 7 beta, but said they were only "preliminary".

"We will continue to take customer feedback from the beta test period into account as we refine the SKU set for Windows 7 and will share more information when we are further along the development path," the spokeswoman said.

Windows 7 video guide

Windows 7 video guide