Windows Vista Consumer Confusion Edition

Microsoft has finally released the official product lineup for Windows Vista.  They are going from a two SKU model in XP (with later additions of Tablet, Media Center & Starter Editions), to a whopping 6 + N SKU’s for Vista.  This is bad for several reasons.

Brand Expectations:  One of the core strengths of the Microsoft OS is that people know what to expect.  By selling all of these different versions, you are confusing your brand image.  Many of the more advanced features are available only on the higher SKU’s.  If someone asks how to do something related to one of these higher-end tasks (like file encryption), we must first deduce what edition they are running (Here’s where the consumer says “I don’t know, it’s Windows!  I got Vista, you told me to get Vista!”). People (non-geeks) already feel that they have to learn too much to utilize computers, now you’re asking them to learn more in order to buy computers.

People Will Buy on Price:  Many businesses and consumers will buy whatever is cheapest.  This is bad for many reasons.  First, it’s less revenue for Microsoft.  Second, after these people buy the cheaper SKU, they will often be less satisfied as customers.  I’ve always hated the XP Home SKU, since so many small businesses have purchased it (usually on cheap prebuilt machines) only to find out that it didn’t give them all of the functionality they needed.

How could Microsoft have done this better?

Option 1:  Two SKU’s, Vista Home & Vista Business.  This gives folks a clear message about who each version is intended for.  Beyond that, if you must have exclusive features, sell cheap feature packs.  Instead of having a separate CD or download required for these feature packs, put them all on the original disc, and let the consumer purchase activations quickly and easily over the phone or internet.  Heck, you could even offer freebies (like “Try the media center feature pack for four weeks free starting July 4th, no credit card required!”).  This makes it a social experiment where everyone can try out the cool features, and decide if it’s worth a subscription or one-time fee.

Option 2:  Come up with a different brand for the Home and Business lines.  The home SKU’s could be Vista, the business ones could be some other two-syllable word that embodies productivity, efficiency, collaboration, or whatever other feel-good buzzwords you need to cling to.

I guess it’s too late, the ship has already sailed on this one…

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