It is rare that I link directly to Microsoft and even more rare that I link to a product page, but I thought it was fitting in writing this piece about Windows 7. Beyond that I have some really nice things to say about what MS did this time around.
Let me start with my take on the many Windows 7 SKUs. There are really only three that non-enterprise, US upgrading customers will ever need to think about. They are called Windows 7 Home Premium; Windows 7 Professional; and Windows 7 Ultimate. Each boxed copy includes both 32 and 64 bit DVDs, unlike Vista which only included both 32 and 64 bit with Ultimate.
One of the best sites out there that describes what features each of these SKUs includes is this page at Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows. What you will notice is, that unlike Vista, each SKU is more comprehensive. Higher tier SKUs of these three include all of the features of the lower tiered SKUs. In Vista, for example, Business (Professional) included a fax utility, Home Premium included the Media Center, and only Ultimate included both. In Windows 7 both Home Premium and Professional (Business), includes both fax and Windows Media Center.
The biggest feature that Windows 7 Professional offers over Home Premium is XP Mode. While Professional includes some other nice features, to me XP Mode is the dealmaker. Ultimate offers very little extra for the vast majority of non-enterprise users over Professional, but if you just have to have Bitlocker, Ultimate is the SKU you want.
It is important that users have this information now because the pre-order deal where you can get Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade for $49.99 and Windows 7 Professional Upgrade for $99.99 will end July 11 in the US, or "until supplies last". My personal opinion about the "until supplies last" is that they will last until July 11; but I may be wrong.
I've ordered 2 copies of Windows 7 Professional for our Windows XP desktops, where we will need to have the option of XP Mode, and 1 copy of Home Premium for my laptop where I don't need that function. Had this pre-order special not occured, I would only be upgrading my laptop which currently runs Vista. By selling me $250 worth of upgrades as opposed to $120 worth, I see this as a win for me and a win for Microsoft (even when including their cost to produce three packages as opposed to one). I have no doubt that MS's net profit from me and others like me will be greater than it would have been without this offer.
Of course all our needs vary, so look at the comparison charts, and if you know you want Windows 7 go for it (you can still test drive it by downloading the release candidate now). This special pre-order upgrade pricing is a great opportunity if either Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional will meet your needs. For the vast majority of us, I believe that one of these two SKUs will do what we need and want it to do.