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Microsoft may limit the number of Windows 8 editions

Software giant could cut back on the different editions, or SKUs, for Windows 8 to just six, according to two HP documents.

Microsoft could be aiming to simplify Windows 8 by trimming the number of editions, or SKUs, sold to the public.

Two files from Hewlett-Packard's Web site uncovered by blogger Stephen Chapman from CNET sister site ZDNet appear to indicate how many Windows 8 editions Microsoft will sell. The files list the specific flavors of Windows supported by drivers for an HP laptop smart card reader. HP has since removed the references to Windows 8 from the files, but images of Google-cached versions saved by Chapman show just the six following SKUs:

  • Microsoft Windows 8 32 Edition
  • Microsoft Windows 8 64 Edition
  • Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise 32 Edition
  • Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise 64 Edition
  • Microsoft Windows 8 Professional 32 Edition
  • Microsoft Windows 8 Professional 64 Edition

The first edition with no specific name is likely slated for individual consumers. The Enterprise edition will, of course, target large businesses. And the Professional edition will probably be geared toward smaller businesses and high-end users.

Of course, we don't know for sure that these will be the actual Windows 8 SKUs. As Chapman points out, the names could just be placeholders until the actual SKUs surface. But if so, then why not just repeat the same SKUs listed for Windows 7 and replace the version number with an 8?

A Microsoft representative declined CNET's request for comment.

If the SKU references are legit, then Microsoft is clearly trying to limit the number of Windows 8 editions in a change from its past strategy. The company has a history of dolling out a huge and often confusing number of Wndows editions, most notably with Windows 7 and Vista.

Windows 7 initially came in six different SKUs--Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate. Add to those both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions, and buyers were faced with 11 different products (Starter is available only in a 32-bit edition).

Vista also offered 11 different SKUs, with 32-bit and 64-bit flavors of Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate, Business, and Enterprise, and the 32-bit Starter.

If the HP files are accurate, I think the company is taking the right step by limiting the Windows 8 editions available. Ultimately, fewer choices will be less confusing for consumers and businesses alike.

The Windows 8 beta, aka the Consumer Preview, will launch Wednesday. So we may know by then just how many editions of Windows 8 will pop up.

Updated 8:00 a.m. with response from Microsoft.