Besides its uptight security and early software incompatibilities, the confusion surrounding Windows Vista's marketing fragmentation stood as one of critics' main complaints. There were six editions (Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise and Ultimate) with four of them available at retail. Without a comparison table of features (and understanding what the heck they did), buying the right build was more difficult than it had to be.
Windows 7 improved the situation slightly by offering only three of its six editions at retail (Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate are widely available, while Home Basic is limited to "emerging markets"), but there was still plenty of confusion about each version's distinct features and upgrade paths. By comparison, Windows XP was only initially offered in two iterations (Home and Professional), though other variants eventually slipped out.
It seems Microsoft might simplify the shopping process with its next OS. ZDNet's Stephen Chapman discovered a potential list of Windows 8 SKUs in HP driver documentation for an Alcor Micro Smart Card Reader. If accurate, Windows 8 will only ship in three configurations, each with 32- and 64-bit flavors: one plainly called "Windows 8" (presumably the consumer edition), one branded "Professional" and another labeled "Enterprise":
- 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