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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

What Flavour Of Longhorn Will You Get?

Since the introduction of Windows XP, as well as with previous versions of its server line of operating systems, Microsoft has offered several different flavours, or SKU's of the operating system. Each SKU targetting a distinct class of end-users. Windows XP Home was aimed at the home user and came with little extra features. Windows XP Professional came with IIS in the box, as well as the ability to log into the machine using Remote Desktop (something that I personally feel should have been bundled with the Home SKU). Some time later, Microsoft unveiled the Media Center Edition, although in order to get a copy of this SKU, it is required that you purchase a Media Center PC from certain OEM's, and there is a specific list of hardware that can be used with these PC's.

With Longhorn on the way, I hope that Microsoft will follow one of two routes. The first, which I believe would be best for the end-user, would be to bundle everything together in one box. The second way to go about things, have two different SKU's at most, but with distinct differences in functionality.

Including everything in one box is definately possible. By the time Longhorn goes RTM, every PC is likely to have a DVD drive. You would go about installing Longhorn just as you would normally install an operating system; boot up from the optical media, select the partition you wish to install to, and start copying the 1's and 0's over. Once Longhorn has been installed, re-insert the installation DVD and from the autorun menu you can select which role you would like this installation to play in your home. Installing no additional role would give you your desktop PC experience. You could however choose to install the Longhorn Media Center functionality on this PC, or the Tablet/Mobile functionality.

The second option, and the one that I assume Microsoft will likely go if they had to decide between my two options, would be to have at most two SKU's. The first would be a standard Longhorn installation. Don't call it Home Edition or anything like that (the name for Longhorn alone would be a blog entry in itself), Windows Longhorn (or whatever name is chosen) will suffice. This SKU would target both home users and business users. A standard version of Longhorn would be installed by default, with the option of installing additional services such as IIS, and Media Center functionality. The second SKU would be the WIndows Longhorn Tablet/Mobility. This version would lack the ability to install IIS (running a website on a mobile system isn't really recommended) or the Media Center functionality, but would include core mobile functionality that Longhorn will provide, as well as the inking and handwriting recognition features. The ability to view media from a Media Center system would be a nice feature, however.

I hope that at the very least, the Media Center functionality will be available without purchasing a system from an OEM that has been dubbed a Media Center PC. I see Microsoft moving towards a new era in computing - multi-role systems. Gone will be the days of owning a desktop PC and a dedicated Media Center. By the time Longhorn goes RTM, the system that will likely be running this next generation operating system will be powered by a multi-core processor. I wouldn't be surprised if the PCI-E graphics card in that system had multi-core GPU's as well. With all this multi-threading going on, someone could be using the desktop PC in the office while it simultaneously plays and records live television for the users in the den. Moving away from the half-dozen SKU's could help Microsoft realize this possibility and make a better, richer, and cheaper experience for the end-user. I'd be interested to see how Microsoft goes about deploying Longhorn to the the consumer.

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