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:

  1. A $450 or $400 netbook with Windows 7 Home Premium
  2. An identical netbook with Windows 7 Starter for $350
  3. 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?

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55 replies on “Windows 7 Starter or Home Premium for netbooks?”

  1. I’ve been faffing about with Starter for days and keep discovering new ommissions and abominations. Word is useless – spellcheck locked in US English and stripped down to the bare bones – and a permanent advert for the full verion takes up one third of the screen space. They must know its no good to use – the whole thing feels like an advert. I got it in good faith – had no idea they could drop the standards lower than what I’ve taken to be basic for decades. 20 quid more and I could have had the full version already installed. Pure swindle. I’m demanding a full refund.

  2. type oceanis in google search will get you very easy backgrounds i use it on my 2 starters

  3. ok so im on a netbook with win 7 and i just opened skype, internet exp, mozilla firefox, sunbird and VLC media player, I then grew tired of opening things and apparently dont understand what this conversation is about.

  4. Yes I agree. Only Windows 7 starter on netbooks. Who are we kidding. Of course Microsoft could afford to put Windows 7 Home Premium on netbooks. Afterall if Microsoft had their way about things we would have to pay a yearly fee for whatever OS we had. Bullies!

  5. just bought my netbook with win7 starter. i feel crippled, cheated, and disgusted with microsoft. give us our free upgrade!!!!

    can change even my background, cant run mpeg2 decoder, WTF?!

    this is the worst OS i had ever

    1. Sorry to hear that. I did some research and concluded that Windows 7 Starter was junk. Ironically, you pay less for a netbook with XP Home on it, and XP Home is a complete operating system – with no limitations, and with no drain on your hardware. So, I bought a Lenovo IdeaPad with XP Home on it, and couldn’t be happier.

      Is there a chance you can return your new computer? That’s what I would do, even if just for store credit or to exchange for something else. You’d not only be doing yourself a favor, you’d be helping to send a message to Microsoft, to netbook makers that offer Starter, and to retailers who sell computers with Starter.

      1. I agree, I found Windows 7 Starter on my new Advent Netbook absolutely apalling.. many of my software applications simply couldn’t be loaded and weren’t recognised by windows 7.. sony picuture motion browser version 3.0, samsung PC studio are not compatible and will not work… I was fortunate and returned the netbook and swapped it for an Acer Netbook with XP.. cheaper too and really happy now to be back with XP

  6. Actually I just bought a Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t. I had the option of the base model (Atom N450 processor, 1 GB RAM, 160 GB HD, Windows 7 Starter) or the upgrade (Atom N470, 2 GB RAM, 250 GB HD, Windows 7 Home Premium). Of course, I went with the upgraded one, but the surprising thing was for all that, it only cost $100 more. My point is that the price point between Windows 7 Starter and Home Premium on at least this netbook isn’t nearly as bad as I anticipated, especially since it was bundled with extra power and space.

    1. So glad to hear that. I have a new IdeaPad wth XP Home on it, and really like my new computer. I was thinking I’d perhaps buy another in the not-so-distant future, and your post is encouraging. It means we can have both ultraportability and full functionality going forward.

  7. How do I upgrade a netbook with Windows Starter editiom to Windows 7 pro?
    Or does it have the 32 bit compatibility mode built in?

    1. Well, I just checked and Dell for example still sells XP on their netbooks. Looks like Windows 7 is too expensive to be feasible on netbooks. So if you buy a netbook, you either get XP (rotten old), or 7 starter (crippled) or get one with 7 home premium (or the upgrade from starter for 75!!!!!$)
      So either way you turn it, 7 is too expensive, it looks bad when you see the whole price of the netbook. So the first most important selling point in a netbook is price, which will be a no go with Windows then, unless MS really lowers their prices and comes down from their high horses.
      An OS is noways a dumb commodity, nothing special, an OS does NOTHING, it runs programs. And these programs are not even included in Windows (see if you find office preinstalled on any Windows as Open Office is in Linux)
      As I have seen, one thing that Microsoft so far has tried to cover up and obscure is the price difference between a Linux Laptop/netbook and one with Windows, because it makes them look bad: it shows how (needlessly) expensive Windows really is.
      They have just widened the gap with 7.
      And about the 3 program limitation? People hate it, truly. Anybody that has used XP is pretty much offended by it. The perfect use of a netbook, as a communication device is not possible with Windows 7 starter:
      and bang, you are out, one over already. And do you know what these people do? They get upset and bring back that netbook to the store and say that was not what they bought. And when they check out what the full version of 7 would cost, the 75 bucks extra? that is rip-off!! A way to sell a baloney product and then force you to shell out more to buy the real one. XP did not need that. So 7 looks like it is a step back. And that is probably why Dell is selling their netbooks still with XP: It does not make them look bad and does not drive up the prices of their products. And now, if they only could sell Linux netbooks. But no, they are forced by a NDA from Microsoft to offer Linux only on a disappearningly few “select” systems, so that Linux cannot become dangerous for MS. The policy is “fill need” not ”
      create need”. Dell is on a leash of Microsoft. If only the justice department was smart enough to realize the parallels to standard oil and why monopolies always hurt the market.

  8. it is not true that windows 7 starter can only run 3 applications a once, in afct it can run up to 10 and even more applications at once.

  9. I’d buy the linux version and stick with that, if it’s a decent distro that is…

  10. I for 1 thing defenitely would not buy a netbook with windows 7 starter edition. I will rather they have windows XP installed, or at the least windows 7 home premium. what a waste of time & resources to have a starter edition. The borg wouldnt know real crap until they assimilated the starter edition

  11. using minimizer software like 4t Tray Minimizer, the 3program limit could be “bypassed”

  12. The more I read about Win 7 SE on current netbooks, the more I think it’s an utter waste of time. Modern netbooks are more than capable of running Win 7 HP and will simply feel throttled with Win 7 SE on. I’m waiting to buy a new netbook with Win 7 on, but I will only buy if I can get the HP version.

  13. A full version of Linux on a netbook (KDE 4.2 in particular) will absolutely outshine any version of Windows 7, and especially Windows 7 starter.

    Kubuntu Jaunty Jakalope, currently still in aplha pre-release state, already works very nicely indeed on netbooks. It will be available (released) towards the end of April. There is no need to wait until November. The alpha 4 version of Kubuntu Jaunty will already install on netbboks with 4GB or more of storage, and it allows zero cost installation of OpenOffice 3, Firefox 3.06, and Krita 1.98.something … which already easily compete feature-wise with MS Office, IE7 and Photoshop. You are miles in front right there.

  14. Linux, for sure. The numbers above are simply too expensive to justify. For $320 you get the exact same hardware, and a usable, modern OS. For an extra $80-130, you could have 7 preinstalled.

    When I make purchase recommendations, I recommend that people buy what they know they will *need*, and if they want to upgrade later (provided that an upgrade path exists) they can do it then. This is especially true of computer equipment, since the prices go down dramatically over time. The OS price won’t go down, but installing it is easy enough. If Linux works for you (and it will, if you aren’t bound to graphics intensive games [moot point here] or specific Windows only applications that don’t work in Wine [ AudibleManager and Netflix Watch instantly Silverlight DRM for me], and are willing to give it a try [it is free after all]), then you’re saving money. If you find it doesn’t (for whatever reason), then getting Win7 is a small chore.

  15. Price, price, price, price, price.

    I’ll live with the limitations. I don’t want a $99+ OS on my netbook. Offer me WIndows XP Home or Windows 7 Starter, and let me upgrade to Home Premium or one of the other versions if I want to at a later time.

    I don’t find the 3 application limit that scary.

    1. Personally though, I’d prefer if Microsoft just released a version of the OS targeted at netbooks. You know all those tweaks everybody does to strip XP to the barebones and make it boot faster and perform better with the marginal SSDs that come in netbooks? Just productize that. No indexing service. No aero. Don’t record the last time a file was touched in NTFS. No Internet Connection Sharing. No background transfers or remote desktop access. No drive encryption. No domain logons. Etc etc.

  16. Nobody has mentioned how a high price for Windows 7 (say, $100 over the current price a netbook equpped with XP) will create a demand for pirated/hacked OS versions. Somebody will figure out how to work around the System 7 beta drop-dead date, and Microsoft will be chasing pirates for years. Spending $300 for an OS might have made sense when the computer costs $3000, but not when the computer costs $350.

  17. I think netbook manufacturers will put tremendous pressure on Microsoft to come up with a better solution. No one wants a crippled OS, and $100 for an OS is too high on a netbook. Either Microsoft will relax its limitations for the starter edition, or they will lower the price of home premium. If not, the door is WIDE OPEN for linux to make a come back on netbooks. It would be a perfect opportunity for Google to release the desktop OS they are said to be working on.

  18. I’ll probably keep the netbook I have now – an MSI U100 with 2gb ram, 320 gb hdd, and a Gigabyte wireless draft-N card – and put Windows 7 Home Premium on it. I’m running Windows Vista Home Premium now and have an 80 gb hdd with Windows 7 beta on it at the moment.

  19. MS did try to sell XP Starter in undeveloped countries, and what good did it bring to them? If you live in undeveloped country, even a 50$ price isn’t that low, and paying for a completely crippled OS is simply a no go. I live in Serbia, and the most people here didn’t even hear of starter, and why should they if they can go to the local pirate and get XP Pro for 2-3 bucks. As for Win 7 Starter, it’s no less rubbish idea than the previous cheep OS Microsoft had. If I had oportunity to choose between linux and win 7 starter netbook, that come at almost same price, I’d rather go with a linux distribution that works, than with windows that doesn’t. The only problem is, Serbian distributors import only those things they can sell well, and quite often they overcharge them. When MSI Wind first hit the market, it was priced at 400 euro, like in the rest of Europe. But now, months after, the price for 3cell 80gig model hasn’t dropped below 380 euro, the only Eee pcs you can find are 4g surf and 1000HD, and an 160gig aspire one costs 350 euro (about 450$). So that’s why I belive that people here will be forced to overpay the crippled windows netbooks when it comes out, instead of getting what we really want and need.

  20. I say let microsoft put starter edition on netbooks, then consumers will get pissed off and everyone can switch to linux, sound fine by me.

    1. This is old but…..

      not quite. I just got a net book with that starter edition…. When people get pissed they tend to ‘take what they want’ So…. I WILL have the home premium edition…. Do I feel bad…nope not one bit….
      What is the reasoning behind thhe starter edition? REALLY!?

  21. It’s all about target customers and the value chain of netbooks and laptops.

    No way would I run Vista starter edition though. Even though there are a lot of netbook users out there I suspect those folk won’t be upgrading their hardware straight away just because of the O/S. They will probably stick with what they have. The market MS and the netbook providers are going after are those new customers.

    The new customers will still think a $450 netbook is fantastic value as they are probably the folk who pay nearly double that for a “decent” laptop whilst being bigger and more powerful will last less time on battery, is very heavy to carry and about as appealing as a brick in the face.

    Sure there will be die hard laptop folk out there that need CPU power and have no issue with the weight etc but netbooks aren’t going to satisfy those folk any day soon anyway. There will be a group of laptop users who will defect, who use the laptop like a millstone and would prefer something far more portable. Add extra battery life to that and less drudgery and you will find 10-20% of laptop users seriously considering one. I know I am.

    There are other customers but I am tired from typing now anyway…

  22. I think Microsoft may back away from the limit of only being able to run three apps at once. I guess it depends on how much the netbook manufacturers protest about this limit. It will only take HP or Acer threatening not to bundle Windows with their netbooks at all for Microsoft to cave in on this point.

    If Netbooks do go on sale with the three legged version of Windows, I would buy one and wait for somebody to hack the Starter Edition. I bet I wouldn’t have to wait very long…

    1. google for how to hack vista starter edition to run more than three programs, and you’ll find out the hack is probably already out there. it appears to be called “TrayIt!”, i.e. its a utility that lets you run things in the tray rather than the task bar. Since Microsoft doesn’t count the things in the task bar towards your total of three programs, you can use this to get around the limit.

      1. One of the “big things” for Windows 7 is the change in how the start bar and system tray behave. While it may work, I don’t think we have any good reason to believe that it will.

  23. I am PETRIFIED by Microsoft offering Windows 7 Starter Edition on netbooks. The more I think about it, the more I think it’s possibly the worst decision Microsoft has ever made. Unless they implement it in a way they’ve never done before.

    I’m a software trainer, and the thing Microsoft really misunderstood with Vista is that people are stupid. They heard that Vista sucks, and they believed it. There are a variety of reasons for that (some true, some not), but still, it became the common knowledge that Vista was a failure.

    So, here is the danger: netbooks are the FASTEST GROWING computer segment. If someone buys a netbook with Windows 7, and it can only run 3 applications, they will tell their friends that Windows 7 sucks and can only run 3 applications.


    Unfortunately, Microsoft is so focused on trying not to erode their bottom line, they might make a huge mistake with what SHOULD be a phenomenal operating system release. They’ve worked hard on making Windows 7 a solid OS. They really shouldn’t shoot themselves in the foot like this.

    Possible work-around: Give Windows 7 Starter a completely different interface, and only a few built-in applications to work with. If you are going to sell a crippled OS, make it CLEAR to consumers that’s what they’re getting. Because they are stupid. Seriously.

    1. Actually, the danger isn’t that Windows 7 Starter will give Windows 7 a bad name. It’s that it will give NETBOOKS a bad name. Starter will also lack Aero, “easy networking” features, live thumbnails and various multimedia codecs. It won’t take even the dumbest of users long to figure out that these limitations aren’t in the version of Windows 7 shipping on desktops and notebook computers. So why would a computer ship with a crippled version of an OS? Well, the answer is money, but many shoppers will probably conclude that it’s because netbooks aren’t powerful enough to run the “real” version of Windows 7. And that’s a real danger… it could damage the entire platform if that perception spreads. That’s why I think the companies that sell the most netbooks will probably know better than to consider Starter Edition- it will damage the reputation of their products, anger users with arbitrary limits and saddle them with hidden upgrade costs. Most netbook makers will soon offer a Linux machine and a much more expensive Windows 7 Home Premium version. (Unless Microsoft wises up and offers Windows Home Basic for netbooks.)

      1. no aero?
        no live thumbnails?

        you say that like it’s a bad thing! 🙂 damn it sounds like this is the version to get!

        as for codecs i’ll as ever just install vlc that plays dvds, wmvs, mp4s and every other format that i’ve thrown at it.

      2. Most people are only exposed to a new operating system along with a new computer. Microsoft does a very poor job of differentiating between versions.

        Most of the people I train are unaware that there WERE different versions of Windows XP, much less WHAT they were. That was more or less okay, since the “Pro” features were more focused on IT departments and pretty seamless for the end user.

        With Vista, they’re clueless, and nobody has even heard of Windows 7 yet. If someone buys a new netbook that has a Windows 7 sticker on it, that’s what Windows 7 is to the person who bought it. Microsoft really does need to understand this.

    2. I wouldn’t call consumers stupid – uneducated about their choices, – but certainly not stupid.

      1. Obviously, that’s my point. Tubes must be clogged, since the sarcasm obviously didn’t get through. [;^D

    3. It could go like that. Or it could drive Linux adoption, because not everyone is stupid, particularly the OEMs who will have the final say as to what is bundled with their products. If the OEMs find that Starter machines are a bad move, they’ll cull them from the herd. That leaves a $325 linux machine vs a $425 Win7 machine. As the prices for netbook hardware gets smaller, the gap between the two becomes more pronounced. As the prices get larger (and in this market segment it’s not going to happen) it will become less pronounced.

      Once Linux reaches critical mass (when software and hardware vendors routinely support Linux), the present form of the reign of Windows will come to an end within 2 generations.

  24. If I installed my own OS on the linux version, that OS would also be linux.

    I don’t know how viable Microsoft is going to find this pricing scheme, but they’re pretty adaptable — the price on XP didn’t fall until they had to compete, but the competitive pressures are still there.

  25. Only three apps at at time? That is a non-starter for me. My average is 5 on my desktop and would not stand for the artificial limitation on any computer. I still would not be surprised if MS unveils a “netbook edition” in order to bury XP. I know it isn’t listed anywhere but it would be easy to put together.

    1. i have a minimum of 3-4 on my netbook. email, web, vim plus what ever i’m actually working on. plus a command prompt/explorer window to get at the files. but my system is also running its own bits and pieces in the system tray are they programs?

      hell when i used a psion i often had 10 apps open at the time and people who tried it found it more responsive than win3.1 running half that amount of apps.

      this artifical limitation is purely a price thing trying to release a cheap enough windows that can compete with a free product, linux.

  26. All this talk about Starter vs. Home Premium and not a word about Business?

    I don’t get why that doesn’t seem to be an option.

    My company is looking at purchasing a few of these as secondary devices.

    1. Instead of Business, Microsoft will be offering Windows 7 Enterprise
      for businesses that need volume licenses, or Windows 7 Professional
      which is basically the same thing, but available for the public.

      My guess is that you won’t find *too* many companies selling netbooks
      preloaded with these through general retail outlets. But you may be
      able to contact the commercial sales departments at HP, Dell, and
      other companies to purchase these. Or you can always just purchase
      netbooks with Linux and install Windows 7 yourself if you have a
      volume license for your business.

      1. MS is not setting up 7 Pro to be the same as Enterprise. Enterprise and Ultimate will now be the same, with Ultimate being the retail version of Enterprise for those that want VHD booting support, etc. Vista Business and 7 Pro will basically be the same except for the fact that you gain everything from Home Premium now in 7 Pro.

      2. You can always buy your netbooks with Starter or Home Premium, and pay to upgrade them to another version, like Business or Ultimate, after the fact.

  27. It all depends on how the “3 applications” are counted. If five browser windows count as one application, that would probably be OK. Does “My Computer” count as an application? How about Task Manager to kill stuck browser Windows.

    1. doubt it as even ie7 with multiple tabs would be listed as one application. multiple windows open would be another story. depends on how dumb ms are going to be.

      have a sneaking suspicion that this might bite ms in the backside. at any time i have email thundrbird, firefox for browsing and vim for text editor open to work. if i’m limited to using only 3 apps theres a good chance one of those apps will be firefox running google documents for my editing, google gmail for my email only running one app leaving 2 slots available. so they’ll be pushing their poorest customers into the welcoming arms of google.

  28. I think this is all moot since, as you pointed out early and then dropped completely, Windows Starter Edition has only ever been sold in developing nations in an attempt to combat software piracy. You will not see it sold in developed nations such as the US and UK. Windows 7 Home Premium will very likely sell for the same amount as Windows XP Home does today as it fills the same niche.

    (As an aside, Microsoft would be well-served to drop the silly limitations in “Starter” and sell Home Basic as “Starter” overseas, and have a single “Home” sku in the US.)

    1. Microsoft has stated that it *will* make Windows 7 Starter Edition
      available in developed countries for the first time. It will be
      licensed to OEM computer makers, but not sold to the general public.

    2. … and HP has said they’ll be offering their netbooks with Windows 7 Starter as an option…

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