Microsoft plans to release the next version of Windows in seven different variants, it has been claimed by noted Windows-watcher Paul Thurrott.

According to Thurrott, Vista will exist in a number of forms depending on whether it is being used in the home or workplace.

Home users will be able to choose from Vista Home Basic Edition, Vista Home Premium Edition, and Vista Ultimate Edition, while there will be a stripped-down version for sale in developing countries called Vista Starter Edition.

Business users will encounter one of three versions, including Vista Small Business Edition, Vista Professional Edition, and Vista Enterprise Edition.

The default home edition is likely to be Vista Premium Edition, which will be differentiated mainly by its enhanced home entertainment features. The Ultimate Edition will comprise a superset of Premium and Basic, with added games support.

Business users, meanwhile, will most likely be running Vista Professional Edition. Roughly equivalent to the Pro version of Windows XP, this will add Encrypted File System (EFS), Remote Desktop, and support for some non-Microsoft protocols.

Vista Small Business Edition is expected to include features that simplify everyday server-based networking, and possibly an integrated ability to sign up for access to Microsoft’s subscription-based SME software services.

Enterprise Edition will feature full-volume encryption, secure startup, and multi-language support.

While Thurrott says the product names are not final, the division of a single operating system into so many different variants sounds plausible. Microsoft’s Windows empire currently comprises an equally large and confusing array of versions, but these relate mainly to different generations of the software released in the last decade.

"What's scary here, of course, is how widely Microsoft is expanding the Windows product line. As with its Office family of products, Microsoft is stretching things a bit with this wide number of product editions, and this will lead to consumer and business confusion," he concludes.