Why is Microsoft even offering Windows 7 Ultimate?

Before the company upsets even more people, should Microsoft ditch Windows 7 Ultimate?

Through July 11, Microsoft is offering steep discounts on Windows 7 upgrades for the Home and Pro versions of the software--but not Windows 7 Ultimate.

Windows 7
Windows 7 Professional: What you really need. Microsoft

According to a CNET report , users can "preorder Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional at roughly half the list price, but the Ultimate version is offered at the full $219 price."

Those who currently use Windows Vista Ultimate and were hoping to switch to Windows 7 Ultimate were understandably upset. After getting little more than a few extras with Vista Ultimate, like Microsoft's BitLocker Drive Encryption software, they were hoping they'd be treated better this time around when they opted for Windows 7 Ultimate.

No such luck.

But instead of railing against Microsoft for treating its Windows Vista Ultimate customers so poorly, perhaps we should turn our focus to Windows 7 Ultimate itself. It might be the follow-up to Windows Vista Ultimate. Microsoft might have thrown every feature into it. But if we take an objective look at what it really offers, I don't think Microsoft can justify its existence as a consumer operating system.

According to Microsoft's Windows 7 Web page, Windows 7 Ultimate edition sports just two features that you won't find in Windows 7 Professional: a full language pack, which includes support for 35 languages, and the company's BitLocker software. A press release Microsoft sent to journalists in February lists BranchCache and DirectAccess support, as well.

It's silly. BitLocker was included in Windows Vista Ultimate. I'm willing to bet that if you asked most Windows Vista Ultimate users how often they use BitLocker, they'll wonder what you're talking about.

Although it's nice to see Microsoft supporting multiple languages for those more comfortable computing in their first language, a relatively small subset of the market will actually want such a feature. For many, it's a waste. And since both BranchCache and DirectAccess are designed specifically for enterprise users, consumers won't have any reason to use those tools either.

Why did Microsoft even consider releasing Windows 7 Ultimate? It's not only more expensive than Windows 7 Professional , which sports all the features most folks would need anyway, but its add-ons are, once again, inconsequential.

For its part, Microsoft is saying that Windows 7 Ultimate isn't for everyone. Windows General Manager Mike Ybarra said in an interview with Microsoft PressPass, the company's PR arm, that Windows 7 Ultimate is for the "enthusiast."

"There is a small set of customers who want everything Windows 7 has to offer," Ybarra said. "So, we will continue to have Windows 7 Ultimate edition to meet that specialized need.

"Windows 7 Ultimate edition is designed for PC enthusiasts who 'want it all' and customers who want the security features such as BitLocker found in Windows 7 Enterprise edition."

Although I haven't seen Microsoft's customer research, I have a hard time believing the PC enthusiast will look at Windows 7 Ultimate as the go-to version. PC enthusiasts are generally experts with a high-level of computing knowledge. Why would they pick an overpriced OS edition whose features can't justify its price?

Quite the contrary, Windows 7 Ultimate edition looks like a sucker's bet. Folks who go to the store with little knowledge about software will be left wondering why they shouldn't just spend an additional $20 for Windows 7 Ultimate when, judging by the name, it must be better than Professional. (Boxed copies of Windows 7, available in October, will cost $119 for Home Premium, $199 for Professional, and $219 for Ultimate.)

Windows 7 Ultimate is really only Windows 7 Enterprise by another name. It offers nothing compelling that would make home or even small business users want to buy it. And yet, Microsoft is still selling it at full price.

Once again, Microsoft has damaged the "Ultimate" moniker. Maybe it's best if it fades away before Microsoft ostracizes even more customers.

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