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Microsoft gives glimpse of eight Vistas

A hint has appeared online that Vista, the long-awaited update to its Windows operating system, will debut in up to eight versions.

Microsoft posted names for six core and two non-Media Player variants of the software in a listing of SKUs (stock keeping units) on its Web site, but took down the information soon after it was posted.

The Web site posting said the six versions will be Windows Starter 2007, Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Enterprise, Windows Vista Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate.

Both Windows Vista Home Basic and Windows Vista Business will also be available in an 'N' version, which comes bundled with Media Player. The EU stipulated in late 2004 that Microsoft was to provide versions of its operating system without Media Player included, as part of the settlement to the long-running antitrust case.

Microsoft, however, said the list of eight SKUs was not definitive.

A representative for the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker said: "Microsoft recently posted a Web page designed to test the Windows Vista help system, that included incomplete information about the Windows Vista product lineup. This page has since been removed, as it was posted prematurely and was for testing purposes only. We will share more information about the Windows Vista lineup in the coming weeks."

Earlier reports had suggested that Microsoft was planning to bring out seven versions of the operating system, including a small business and Media Center edition.

While there will apparently be no dedicated Media Center OS, some of the SKUs suggested that versions will carry Media Center functionality, including Media Center Extender for Xbox 360s.

James Governor, analyst at Red Monk, said eight SKUs could serve to confuse consumers and bump up Microsoft costs. Microsoft is "making things needlessly complex for customers from an acquisition point of view, by turning every possible niche into a market in its own right", he said.

Governor added: "Offering so many different versions will also add to Microsoft's support cost...Microsoft should focus on making life easier for itself and its customers. That means portfolio rationalisation rather than oversegmentation."

Jo Best of reported from London.