There’re a lot of positive vibes on the Intertubes about Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 7 OS. It’s had great reviews, the beta-test version had to be extended, and it looks like it’ll be here soon enough to make Vista’s failures just fade away. But Microsoft’s move to limit its Starter Edition, destined for netbook PCs, to running just three concurrent applications is simply insanity.
The Starter Edition of Windows 7 is a very stripped-down OS that cuts out many of the bells and whistles of the full operating system so it’ll run more smoothly on the limited hardware typically found on netbooks. And that’s a good idea that’s hard to find fault with.
But here’s the rub: Microsoft’s researchers have determined that the average Windows user has no more than three applications running at the same time. So that’s exactly how many the Starter Edition will let you run–so that you don’t over-stretch the tiny Atom processor inside your Eee PC and suffer degraded performance. Anti-virus apps get a free pass, luckily.
Three apps–including background tasks? Imagine Outlook and MSN running in the background, and Word in the foreground…if you wanted to Google for an image to drop into your Word document, you’d have to ditch either Outlook or MSN, open IE, find the image, save it, then re-open the closed app so you’re still in touch.
I can see the point, but there’s a couple of fundamental flaws in Microsoft’s thinking.
Firstly, netbook processing power and GPUs are improving continually–Intel, Nvidia and AMD are busy working on next-gen chips already, and the generation after the next too. By the time Window’s 7 sees broad adoption, the average netbook in use will be much more powerful than current versions, and the three app limit will be pointless. In fact, Windows 7 runs pretty well on existing netbooks, according to many people. Vista Starter Edition also had the three-app limit, but it was designed years ago for older spec’d hardware. The various flaws in Vista are why XP has had an extended lease of life on netbooks–and it’s not limited in any way.
Secondly I find it hard to believe most users have just three apps open at one time. The scenario I painted above illustrates just how tricky that limit would be in a work situation. Imagine if you’re running Skype, playing a simple game and checking your email. It’d require you to perform far more “window management” than you currently do, opening and shutting apps left, right, and center.
Thirdly, it may drive up the cost of netbooks. Manufacturers will want to show how capable their machines are, and many users will, I suspect, not want to buy a “limited” machine. As a result, Asus and its netbook-manufacturing pals may well choose to install Windows 7 Home Premium, and that would only drive up the cost of the machines.
And finally, if one of the main differentiators between Windows 7 Starter and the Home edition is its netbook-friendly application limit, it begins to sound like Microsoft is up to its terrible old Windows Vista tricks again…trying to profit by creating product differentiation where it’s not needed. As in its numerous Vista versions, and the controversy over which machine was “Vista ready” or not.