31 Windows flavors?

This week, Ed Bott argues for more than one flavor of Windows—each offering different features and price points. Read Ed's Windows wish list.

In a previous column, “Soul of a New Windows,” I hit a few nerves with my not-so-modest suggestion that Microsoft should break itself up as part of an out-of-court settlement. That strategy, I argued, is the best way for Bill Gates & Company to put their whole antitrust mess behind them. As a true indicator of how polarized the debate has become, I took incoming fire from both sides.
In this June installment of Ed Bott's Microsoft Challenge, Ed proposes a product plan for Windows that could accommodate a variety of user scenarios. What do you think of his scheme? Start a discussion below and share your opinion. Ed will be back from vacation next week with a new Challenge.
Wayne M agreed with most of what I'd written but argued that I should have taken the graphical user interface out of my hypothetical post-breakup OS and given it to the applications company. "Windows doesn't need a GUI," he said, and Windows will be better able to crush its competition in the embedded world without it. "Look out, Judge Jackson, your ruling may result in fewer players in the marketplace, not more."

On the other side of the ledger, janmann said that I "sound like just Another Typical UNIX User In Search Of Another Flavor Of UNIX....Yegads! Dinosaur thinking from a supposed techie! We should promptly reject this Bottosaur's viewpoint of what 'belongs' in an operating system."

Hmmm, Bottosaur? I don't recall seeing that species in Jurassic Park. This is also the first time I've ever been accused of being a (shudder) UNIX user. That hardly seems fair when, as I pointed out last week, this definition of an operating system was drawn from Microsoft's own documents and white papers, not my imagination.

Anyway, let me suggest how Microsoft could breathe new life into a lean, mean, tightly focused Windows company. For starters, consider Microsoft's severe market segmentation for the desktop versions of Windows. You're either a consumer or you're a business user. You get Windows 98 (soon to be Windows Me) or Windows 2000 Professional. Period. Of course, that segmentation is absurd, because there are many more market segments than that. And a Windows development team dedicated to building a solid kernel with a broad range of user-focused add-ons would have the ideal building blocks for meeting all those market needs.

In this case, the model Microsoft should use for its Windows products comes from just across campus. Microsoft Office comes in at least five flavors covering a wide variety of user scenarios; why not do the same with different versions of Windows, each with a different feature set, at a different price point? My Windows product plan would include the following:

WinDOS—This version would be the ultimate stripped-down Microsoft OS, a direct competitor to Linux distributions. At a low cost (say, $20), it would include nothing but a command-line interface, hardware support, and the libraries to support applications and security functions. It would be ideal as the base for a Web or FTP server, or you could install a third-party browser, shell, and system tools and turn it into an unconventional desktop OS. This would appeal strictly to techies and cheapskates.

Windows Standard Edition—This one would be the consumer-focused version, akin to Windows 98, with a browser, access to several ISPs, support for broadband connections, and streaming audio/video playback. As always, security patches and bug fixes would be available via the Web. I'd pay $40 for that package.

Windows Family Edition—This higher-end consumer OS would be aimed at households with multiple PCs and would contain all parts of Windows Standard Edition, plus Internet Connection Sharing, Personal Web Server, and family firewall software. Make it $100 and toss in a license for one additional copy of Windows Standard Edition, to be installed from the same CD.

Windows Professional Edition—This version, targeting the small office/home office market, would come with server and workstation capabilities, IIS, and business-focused firewall software. How does $200 sound?

Windows Developer Edition—This one would offer everything but the kitchen sink—debuggers, resource kits, SDKs, tools, and regular updates from MSDN. I'd pay $500 for that, wouldn't you?

Somewhere in Redmond, a Microsoft manager is plugging these numbers into a spreadsheet and watching in horror as his bottom line shrinks to nearly nothing. Maybe my product divisions and pricing suggestions are unrealistic. But I'm convinced that users need far more Windows flavors—plain vanilla isn't good enough anymore.

Look for a new challenge next week!
I'm winding up my short break from the Q&A portion of this column. I'll return after the start of the new year to kick off 2001 with a brand-new Microsoft Challenge.

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