Microsoft's Confusing Vistas

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Microsoft released Windows Vista to business customers last week and reiterated that the new operating system would be available to consumers in late January. Now if we can only figure out which version we want.

I find the array of choices unnecessarily confusing, designed to benefit Microsoft alone by pulling as much cash from our pockets as possible while not appearing too greedy.

For consumers, there are three choices: Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate. The argument goes that consumers already face multiple choices with Windows XP. They had Windows Home, Windows Tablet for some notebooks, and Windows Media Center Edition for PCs designed to better manage photos and music and maybe even record television shows.

But two of those choices emerged later in the XP life cycle and were focused on PCs built specifically for them. Neither comes as an upgrade. All three of the new Vista versions are available as upgrades, but then it gets more confusing, because each of the Vista editions can be installed only over certain versions of XP. Otherwise, they require a clean setup, which means first wiping out the existing version┬ľa painful, if not horrific, addition to the process.

It's all in the name of market segmentation, an old-school way of squeezing a few extra bucks out of an established market. Sure, we can upgrade for only $100 to Home Basic, which is what an XP Home upgrade cost. But now Microsoft is tempting us with new and even more improved versions, for added bucks (upgrading to Home Premium will cost $160; $260 for Ultimate).

Windows is not toothpaste or laundry soap. It's an operating system that runs most of the world's computers and one that already besets us with confusion and angst. We didn't need more before we even try Vista.