The three-application limit is out, Windows 7 Starter on netbooks is back in

After some very pointed and passionate feedback from users in the marketplace, Microsoft has decided to make some changes to Windows 7 when it comes to netbooks. In this edition of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, Greg Shultz describes what has changed.

As you may recall, in a recent blog, Is Microsoft Shooting Its Other Foot with Windows 7 on Netbooks? I was reminiscing about my 1995 HP Jornada and looking forward to getting a netbook with Windows 7 on it. I haven't been ready to jump to Linux yet, and the thought of buying a 2009 computer running a 2001 operating system just doesn't seem right to me. However, when I discovered that Microsoft had designated Windows 7 Starter as the operating system for netbooks and that this version was limited to running three concurrent applications, I was bewildered, confused, and annoyed.

I can easily live without all the Windows 7 extras on a netbook, but the thought of not being able to run more than three applications at a time just sounded ludicrous. I was so angry that I was tempted to throw out my reservations and go ahead and get a netbook running Windows XP or even, possibly, Linux. However, cooler heads prevailed, and I decided to wait and see what would happen over time as Microsoft listened to the cries of other Windows users looking forward to Windows 7 on netbooks.

Well, in a recent edition of the Windows 7 Team Blog, Brandon LeBlanc announced:

"...based on the feedback we've received from partners and customers asking us to enable a richer small notebook PC experience with Windows 7 Starter, we've decided to make some changes compared to previous Starter editions.

For the first time, we will be making Windows 7 Starter available worldwide on small notebook PCs. We are also going to enable Windows 7 Starter customers the ability to run as many applications simultaneously as they would like, instead of being constricted to the 3 application limit that the previous Starter editions included."

When I read this, I was very happy to learn that Microsoft was indeed listening and willing to adapt their plans to the wishes of its customers who want to be able to use Windows 7 on a netbook.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

What doesn't Windows 7 Starter have?

As I mentioned, I can easily live without all the Windows 7 extras on a netbook. After all, my thought is that Netbooks are not intended to have the full capabilities of a desktop computer. Rather it is intended to be a supplement to your main computer. And, it is designed to be much more portable than a laptop.

My idea of a netbook is a streamlined mobile device about 10-inches long (with a 9- or 10-inch screen), about 8-inches wide, and weighing about 2 to 3 pounds, and it is designed primarily for accessing the Internet — getting news, weather, and sports information, participating on social networks, accessing e-mail, viewing videos/photos, and listening to music. (Just in case you were wondering, the word netbook is a portmanteau of the words Internet and notebook.)

However, not everyone shares this concept of a netbook and may want it to do more. As such, those folks may be wondering just what Windows 7 extras aren't included in the Starter version? Again, I'll quote Brandon LeBlanc:

"It is important to note that Windows 7 Starter still includes only a subset of the features offered in the higher editions of Windows 7 such as Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 Professional and above. Windows 7 Starter does not include:
  • Aero Glass, meaning you can only use the "Windows Basic" or other opaque themes. It also means you do not get Taskbar Previews or Aero Peek.
  • Personalization features for changing desktop backgrounds, window colors, or sound schemes.
  • The ability to switch between users without having to log off.
  • Multi-monitor support.
  • DVD playback.
  • Windows Media Center for watching recorded TV or other media.
  • Remote Media Streaming for streaming your music, videos, and recorded TV from your home computer.
  • Domain support for business customers.
  • XP Mode for those that want the ability to run older Windows XP programs on Windows 7."

If you want the portability of a netbook but want the power and features of a more advanced version of Windows 7, you'll be glad to hear that LeBlanc goes on to say:

"Windows 7 Starter should not be considered "the netbook SKU" as most machines in this category can run any edition of Windows 7."

However, you have to imagine that a netbook running Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 7 Ultimate will definitely cost more than a netbook running Windows 7 Starter.

What's your take?

What's your definition of a netbook? Would you buy a netbook with Windows 7 Starter on it now that Microsoft has removed the three-application limitation? Would you rather buy a netbook with Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 7 Ultimate? If so, would you balk at a higher price point? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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