Windows 7 Starter Edition: Right or Wrong Choice for Microsoft's Netbook Play?

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print

Will Microsoft's Windows 7 Starter Edition be a boon or a bust for the netbook market?

In an attempt to maintain market share and not lose out on the swelling netbook market, Microsoft is planning to offer a stripped-down version of Windows 7, called Starter Edition.

Windows 7 Starter Edition will be a crippled version of Windows 7 that will only be able to run three concurrent applications and will lack many of Windows 7’s advanced features.

The big question is, Will customers be willing to pay for an OS that is arguably less capable than Windows XP Home edition, which is currently found on the majority of netbook computers? Netbooks have proved to be a challenge for Microsoft—the company has had to make special exceptions to get netbook vendors to put a Microsoft OS on those systems, the end result being a step backward down to Windows XP.

Further adding insult to injury for Microsoft was that most netbooks simply did not have the horsepower to run Windows Vista, creating the impression that Vista is too bloated and slow to be efficient. Microsoft aims to fix perceptions and other problems with Windows 7 Starter Edition, but one wrong move here could derail Windows 7.

How will Apple respond to the launch of Windows 7 Starter Edition? I can picture the cute commercials now. Imagine a Mac commercial where the PC guy is shown juggling a couple of balls, the Mac Guy walks in juggling dozens of balls and throws one ball in the PC Guy's direction, and the PC Guy drops everything.

If Microsoft wants to capitalize on the netbook market and fight off the coming Apple netbook, the company will need to take a different approach. Here is what I suggest: First off, make sure that Windows 7 Starter Edition has a flawless browser—after all, most netbooks are for Web browsing. Second, make sure that Windows 7 Starter Edition runs Web applications efficiently—which will be the future for netbook computers. Third, offer Windows 7 Starter Edition for FREE and offer it now.

By offering it free, Microsoft could trounce all of the Linux distributions and build a large upgrade market at the same time. Also, Microsoft could limit Windows 7 Starter Edition to Intel’s Atom processor, making sure it stays only in the netbook market. What’s more, the free OS would be immune to most of Apple’s criticism—after all, it's free.

Microsoft could further its war on Apple by creating a dual-boot version of Windows 7 Starter Edition that would run on Apple’s forthcoming netbook, perhaps taking some of the polish off of Apple and creating an Apple netbook that is more business-friendly. After all, if it's free and if it's dual boot, then why wouldn’t an Apple user give it a try?

Many may wonder, would Microsoft be giving away a ton of profits by providing a free OS? Probably not. A free version of Windows 7 Starter Edition could build a level of excitement for Windows 7 proper not seen since the launch of Windows 95. Also, Microsoft could ramp up its applications store to sell products specifically meant for Windows 7 Starter Edition. Finally, Microsoft could offer discounts to registered users of Windows 7 Starter Edition for upgrades to Windows 7.

With a little less greed and a little more thought, Microsoft could turn Windows 7 into the must-have OS by simply giving away the Starter Edition.

Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com