There’s been a lot of talk over the last few days about Windows 7 on netbooks. As we’ve known for months, the Windows 7 beta that’s currently available runs fantastically on netbooks. Performance is on par with Windows XP in terms of boot times, the speed with which you can launch programs, and multitasking ability. The operating system is also more secure and offers plenty of extra eye candy like live previews of running programs from the taskbar. And the beta version is based on Windows 7 Ultimate, which will be the top of the line version of the operating system.
There’s just one problem. Windows 7 Ultimate is going to cost a fair amount more than the other five versions of Windows 7. So which version of Windows 7 will be available for low price netbooks? Well, that depends.
As I mentioned the other day, one option is Windows 7 Starter Edition. Microsoft has offered Starter Edition operating systems before, but typically only in developing nations. Basically, Windows 7 Starter Edition will look and behave like the higher end versions of the OS. Except it won’t have some of the security features like encryption, and users will only be able to run up to 3 programs at a time. If you ask me, that’s a pretty severe restriction and could mean that netbook makers who offer Windows 7 Starter Edition will face backlash from customers that are used to running unlimited programs on Windows XP or other operating systems.
It’s not at all clear at the moment how much Microsoft will charge for Windows 7 Starter Edition, which will be available to computer manufacturers, not to the general public. But it will certainly be the cheapest option for netbook makers looking to sell a $300 to $400 computer with Windows.
An alternative for computer makers is to install Windows 7 Home Premium, which will have most of the features users will expect of the operating system, including the ability to multitask. It will also cost more and could drive up the cost of netbooks. Which would be fine if netbooks were brand new devices. But low cost mini-laptops running Windows XP Home Edition or various Linux distributions have been around for over a year now.
So if November rolls around (let’s pretend we know that Microsoft will release Windows 7 officially in November, even though we don’t know that), and you can buy:
- A $450 or $400 netbook with Windows 7 Home Premium
- An identical netbook with Windows 7 Starter for $350
- An identical netbook with Linux for $320
…and the last time you purchased a netbook it had Windows XP Home Edition and cost $350, then you’re obviously going to gravitate toward the Windows 7 Starter Edition. And then you’ll probably be dissapointed at the limitations. But $450 might seem like too much money for essentially the same computer.
On the other hand, maybe people will get used to the idea of multiple version of Windows 7 in a way that I don’t think many people ever did with Windows XP. Windows XP Home Edition was fine for most people and offered most of the features you’d find in Windows XP Home Edition. If you didn’t know the difference, odds are you didn’t need the more expensive version. But if Microsoft begins offering Windows 7 Starter Edition in the US it’s possible that people could associate a different value on Windows 7 Starter and Windows 7 Home Premium and be willing to pay an extra $20, $50, or even more to get a computer with a more advanced operating system.
Or maybe netbook makers will unilaterally decide that customers won’t be happy with Windows 7 Starter Edition and either pressure Microsoft to lower the price of the Home Premium software or to just start chargnig more for Windows netbooks.
What do you think? Would you buy a netbook with Windows 7 Starter Edition if it was priced competitively with a Linux version? Or would you rather go with the Linux model, install your own OS, or pay extra for Windows 7 Home Premium?