A few months ago I predicted Microsoft would be facing lawsuits due to the 3-app limitation of Windows 7 Starter Edition, or more precisely due to less than full disclosure on sales of netbooks crippled by Win7. The Wall Street Journal did not go as far as lawsuits, but it called it a big gamble: Microsoft Gambles on Windows 7 ‘Starter’ (Can’t read it? Here’s the trick)
Well, Microsoft may just be listening and they really don’t want those lawsuits. If Paul Thurott’s “exclusive” info is correct, they may have decided to remove the 3-app limit. Of course this would be the right move, but it raises an interesting question: Windows 7 is generally considered too expensive (it is more expensive than Vista, and especially so relative to the lowest-ever hardware prices), and “un-crippling” netbooks removes the only incentives customers woudl have to upgrade to those more expensive OS versions.
Talk about versions, here’s Mary Jo Foley’s unconfirmed report on Microsoft preparing the maximum specs for Windows 7 netbooks. Here’s an interesting bit:
Limiting screen size to a maximum of 10.2 inches (measured diagonally) as the defining boundary between a Small Notebook PC and a full-featured laptop
Interesting timing, just when computer manufacturers are settling on 10” as the minimum, and are introducing more and more 12’” or 11.6” netbooks. I’ve often stated it’s not only about size, in fact the most important and often ignored screen spec is resolution. Websites are typically designed at a resolution of 1024×768 and most netbooks max out at 600 vertical resolution, forcing you to scroll way too much for convenient web-based work. But of course you need microscopic eyes to read 1280×768 on a 8.9” display, hence we will be seeing screen size grow, probably between the 10” and 12” range – exactly what MS plans to exclude from lower cost Win7 pricing.
I have a feeling all this manipulation will work against Microsoft in the long run. The initial batch of netbooks almost two years ago mostly came with Linux, but a few months later manufacturers experienced a higher than usual return rate on this machines. When I unboxed the first netbook I tried, I had a hard time putting some of my “stuff” on it and generally navigating around, not being familiar with Linux. Let’s face it, we’re lazy, conditioned to an operating system that just works, and that’s XP.
Old habits die hard .. but they do eventually, and that won’t be good times for Microsoft. “Putting stuff” on a netbook just for the sake of doing it is really not a good idea. Heck, I just wrote about how an old traditional notebook became snazzy by converting it to netbook-style use. Leaving stuff off is key. Netbooks are likely not are one-and only “main” computer, they are situational devices for travel, conferences…etc. – if what we really need is a browser (perhaps desktopized icons of our favorite web-apps) and Skype, then perhaps we won’t need a “full” OS after all.
The netbook market already turned once from Linux to Windows based on initial user behavior, but I predict a second shift: as we discover our own usage pattern, we’ll realize we really don’t need more then a lightweight system, Linux may see a comeback, or perhaps more mobile-oriented operating systems like Android. Either way, Microsoft’s stronghold on personal computing, especially on netbooks is loosening.
Update: Oh, how ironic, I’ve just received an inviatation from a PR firm to participate in Microsoft’s Talking About Windows initiative.