Microsoft (s msft) plans to offer six different versions of Windows 7 when it ships later this year, but OEMs that sell netbooks will likely offer a slimmed-down number of versions. HP (s hpq) recently told Computer World they will offer three different versions for their Mini line, which is keeping in line with current Vista offerings.
HP will offer the new Starter Edition for those who are price-conscious, and Home Premium and Professional Editions for those wanting more power. Home Premium is the version that will likely make it on most netbooks such as the HP Minis, which is most like the Vista versions currently shipping on lower-end notebooks.
Pricing will play a big role in these versions, of course, and in the low-price netbook space, an even bigger role than in others. This is why HP and others will make the Starter Edition available as an option to keep the cost as low as possible. I believe that only the novice computer user will select the Starter Edition and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone due to the one glaring limitation that this version will enforce.
Microsoft has stated that the Starter Edition will only allow three programs to run at once, which is a major limitation in my view. I wouldn’t advise anyone I know to get Starter, which will limit what can be done with a new computer that has just been purchased. How big is this limitation? Huge in my book, even for the Aunt Sues who may think that three programs is plenty to run at once.
What isn’t clear is what counts toward the three program limit. Does a third party anti-virus program count as one of the three? Everybody needs to run that all the time. What about anti-spyware? That three-program limit could end up being one or two actual user programs at a time, if so. That could limit the usefulness of such a computer even more than the limit of three.
A typical user has the web browser open doing a little surfing or watching YouTube video. They may also have iTunes (or other music app) open alongside the browser and probably an IM program to chat with friends. That’s fine and dandy; even Windows 7 Starter Edition will handle those three programs at once. The problem comes in when an email comes in and the user clicks to open the attached photo of the grandkids. No can do, firing up the photo viewer would exceed the limit of three programs. One of the other apps will have to be closed before the pic of Junior can be viewed.
I don’t believe this is an extreme case at all; these are things I see users doing all the time. I believe that frustration will run rampant with folks who buy a new computer with Starter Edition installed who then keep running up against the three-program limit. They’re not going to get mad at Microsoft, either; no, they will curse the maker of the notebook (or netbook), such as HP. I hope the HPs realize this and make this limit clear at purchase time.