Of the many flavors of Windows 7, due out this summer, the Starter Edition has received perhaps the most flack. It’s limited to running only three applications at a time, something most computer users find absolutely ludicrous. Microsoft isn’t targeting Starter Edition for your everyday desktop PC, though: they’re targeting it at netbooks.
Think about it: what is the primary application for netbooks? You’re not likely to install Microsoft Office 2007 onto your new netbook because performance will be abysmal. You’re not likely to install iTunes onto your netbook because the limited hard drive space won’t hold your entire collection of pirated MP3s. You certainly won’t be doing much hard-core photo manipulation or video editing. You’ll be using your netbook for web browsing, and web-based services. You’ll access your GMail or Windows Live mail from your browser, maybe stream some music from last.fm, use mibbit to get your IRC fix, work on the occasional Google Document, and remove some red eye from a photo using Picnik. As more and more services move online, you can effectively use one application to access them all: your web browser.
I’ve been moving more and more of my daily applications to web-based services. Yes, there are challenges with this — what if my internet connection goes down? What if the server is unavailable? What if net neutrality fails and I have to pay extra to access certain resources? — but on the whole I’ve been very happy with it. I don’t care about fancy window animations or desktop effects, or widgets or sidebars or scrolling tickers on my task bar. I also don’t much care about applications: I care about the productivity afforded to me by those applications. If I can be productive using a single application — my browser — then what do I care if the operating system limits me to only three concurrent apps at a time?
Oh, right. I’m a Linux user. This is where I make the standard Free as in Freedom rant.
Seriously, though, I think Microsoft is on to something here. They’d been practically giving away Windows XP in order to lock up the netbook market. This might look okay up front, but it diverts resources away from other opportunities as developers and support folks are required to keep the old dog barking. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft collects “less than $15 per netbook for Windows XP once marketing rebates are taken into account — far less than the estimated $50 to $60 it receives for PCs running Windows Vista.” Rather than continue to bleed revenue by supporting XP, MS will instead offer Windows 7 to netbook manufacturers.
If all goes according to Microsoft’s plan, using Windows 7 on your netbook will be a no-brainer.