The explosion of low cost netbooks has inspired Microsoft to release a new, cheap, stripped down version of Windows 7. The Windows 7 Starter Edition, as it will be known when Windows 7 arrives later this year, is designed to compete with Linux on netbooks, but it has a potentially deal-breaking restriction: you can only run three applications at a time.
Microsoft is apparently gambling that mainstream customers will prefer a crippled version of Windows to any version of Linux.
But consider this question: do you like listening to music while you browse the web, chat with friends and download some torrents? Well, pick three because, you won’t be doing all those things at once in Windows 7 Starter Edition. Mind you, it’s not the the netbook can’t handle the workload, it’s because Microsoft thinks netbooks should be crippled.
Of course there are some exceptions to the three-app rule. For example, terminal sessions, Windows Explorer, background processes and apps like task manager or desktop gadgets don’t count. Still, even if you can run a couple extra apps, three main applications is limiting and it shows how much Microsoft misunderstands the netbook’s appeal — netbooks are not crippled laptops, they’re laptops that are “good enough.”
Which is why Microsoft’s Starter edition strategy seems horribly misguided. Netbooks already suffer two big limitations — screen size and cramped keyboards. Why add a crippled operating system to the list?
ZDNet’s Ed Bott took a beta version of Starter Edition for a spin and reports that “when I used this system as a netbook, it worked just fine.”
However, Bott’s definition of a netbook seems to the same as Microsoft’s: it’s a crippled notebook.
“If I tried to use this system as a conventional notebook, running multiple Microsoft Office or OpenOffice apps, playing music in iTunes or Windows Media Player, and using third-party IM programs,” Bott writes, “I would probably be incredibly frustrated with the limitations of Starter Edition.”
Clearly Bott (and Microsoft) view the netbook as a substandard way to work, but that doesn’t fit with my experiences on an EeePC where I am currently typing this post, listening to iTunes, downloading the latest version of Ubuntu via BitTorrent and both Photoshop and Lightroom are running in the background. It’s not the speediest laptop around, but it gets the job done.
Would I like my EeePC as much if it had a crippled version of Win 7? Of course not, I’d think of it as a crippled laptop.
While it remains to be seen how Windows 7 Starter Edition will fare with consumers, there is a potential winner here — Linux.
Linux versions of netbooks are already doing quite well and if Microsoft shoots itself in the foot by crippling its OS, the question becomes less about choosing between Windows and Linux and more about choosing between crippled and “just works.”