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Monday, February 27, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Vista sneak preview was right on

Seattle Times technology reporter

It turns out that Windows Vista details Microsoft inadvertently leaked onto its Web site a week ago were accurate.

The company today is confirming there will be six versions of the new operating system going on sale in the second half of the year.

Microsoft also is expanding its tiered pricing system with Vista, a move that could push more consumers and businesses toward higher-priced "premium" versions.

Pricing wasn't disclosed, but Barry Goffe, director of Windows stock-keeping-units strategy, said the basic home and business versions will cost about the same as the current Windows XP Home and Professional versions, which list for $199 and $299.

Goffe said the variety of systems reflects the changing ways people are using PCs. He said the goal was to "take into account all the different needs of all the different users and provide tailored offerings."

Microsoft also has realized one way to expand its mature Windows business is to introduce more higher-priced, premium versions, noted Mike Cherry, an analyst at Directions at Microsoft in Kirkland.

"I think they're going to continually ... be wanting to drive people up to the higher ends," he said.

One risk is that consumers will be confused by the options, which contrast with the one-size-fits-all operating system that Apple Computer provides for its Macintosh computers.

Goffe said the Vista lineup is more straightforward than Microsoft's current Windows XP offerings. Buyers also can get multiple features in a single package, instead of having to choose between specialized versions of XP such as the Tablet and Media Center editions.

"I don't think anyone will be confused, because there are no more versions on the shelf than there were before," Goffe said. "I do think consumers will be excited because their choices will be more rational."

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The Vista lineup includes:

• Windows Vista Starter, a bare-bones version for developing countries.

• Windows Vista Home Basic, a basic version for cost-conscious households that do only basic tasks such as e-mailing, word processing and Internet surfing. Because it's designed for lower-cost PCs, it won't have advanced graphics features.

• Windows Vista Home Premium, the "mainstream" version for consumers, will incorporate features now sold in the standalone Windows XP Media Center and Tablet PC versions.

• Windows Vista Business, a "mainstream" version for business users, includes special features for small businesses and Tablet PC features.

• Windows Vista Enterprise, available only for companies with multiyear licensing agreements, adds security features, including the ability to encrypt a hard drive, so that data is secure even if the PC is lost or stolen. It also has built-in support for multiple languages and virtualization features that simulate older versions of Windows, so that users can run old applications.

• Windows Vista Ultimate, a new "superset" version that includes all features in all editions. It's aimed at enthusiasts, advanced users and small businesses.

All but the Starter version will be available for 32-bit or 64-bit processors.

To comply with European antitrust restrictions, Microsoft also will offer versions of Home Basic and Business in Europe that don't include Windows Media Player.

Most consumers are likely to buy the Home Premium version, Goffe said. He said it will cost about the same as the current Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005.

Goffe also explained last weekend's leak. Microsoft planned all along to announce the Vista lineup after it released a test version Wednesday, but the list came out before the company was ready to formally announce it.

To help testers, the company posted documentation of the lineup on its Web site over the Presidents Day weekend. After it was noticed by journalists, the company took the document down and issued a statement saying the list was premature and incomplete.

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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