Microsoft said Monday it plans to release six versions of its Windows Vista operating system targeted at businesses, home users, and emerging markets, paving the way for the world’s No. 1 software maker to raise prices on its OS after holding them steady for a decade.

Microsoft said all versions of Windows Vista are scheduled to be available in the second half of the year or at the approach of the holiday season, when computer sales peak. The revamped OS is expected to be Microsoft’s biggest revenue generator in the next few years.

The Windows Vista product lineup consists of six versions, two for businesses, three for consumers, and one for emerging markets. Microsoft currently has the same number of versions available for its current OS, Windows XP.

The lineup also resembles the picture that emerged with a leak last week when Microsoft accidentally posted information about the Vista package online (see Vista Versions Leaked).

“We live in a digital world that is filled with more information, more things to do, and more ways to communicate with others than ever,” said Mike Sievert, corporate vice president of Windows Product Management and Marketing at Microsoft, in a statement. “With our Windows Vista product line, we’ve streamlined and tailored our product lineup to provide what our customers want for today’s computing needs.”

Microsoft shares rose $0.53 to $27.16 in recent trading.

Business customers can choose from two versions, Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Enterprise, based on the size and scale of their organizations. The Business version is targeted at small businesses.

Home users can pick from the basic version or the premium version that includes media center features, and integrated DVD burning and authoring tools. Microsoft will also offer the Vista Ultimate, which will include entertainment and business features.

Finally, Microsoft will offer Windows Vista Starter in emerging markets, which has been designed specifically for lower-cost computers.

Move to Raise Prices

Analysts said Microsoft’s decision to release multiple Vista flavors could be part of the company’s strategy to create more differentiation among its products and to generat’ greater excitement around Windows in different market segments.

It could also help Microsoft raise prices of its desktop operating system, which has pretty much remained the same since Windows 95 was released, said Joe Wilcox, an analyst with Jupiter Research. A home edition of XP costs $199.

“The version strategy may also allow Microsoft to do something not done in more than a decade—

raise desktop operating system prices, a tact that can be difficult to take in a market where one product dominates and where monopoly and a contentious antitrust case cast long shadows,” said Mr. Wilcox.

Microsoft hasn’t disclosed the pricing for Windows Vista yet.

Consumers are expected to drive the initial spend in Vista, and businesses are likely to adopt the operating system at least a year later, said Heather Bellini, an analyst with UBS Investment Research.

Ms. Bellini said in a research note that the bank expects the company’s client revenue growth to accelerate to double digits in fiscal year 2007 from 5 percent in fiscal year 2005 and 8 percent in fiscal year 2006 (see Vista Upgrade a Tough Sell).

It will be interesting to see whether this release will be as popular as they are projecting. Although the article mentions that XP has 6 versions to0, i can't seem to remember all of them or whether all 6 played a major role.