By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, April 22, 2009 at 4:52 pm
Yesterday, I wrote about Ed Bott’s hands-on experience with Windows 7 Starter Edition, which limits you to three open applications at a time, with some exceptions. Ed thinks Starter might be okay if you’re working mostly in your browser on a netbook, but would likely be a headache for more traditional applications on a more traditional notebook.
Ed’s take on Starter is about as positive as you’re likely to find right now. Other folks–most of who, like me, presumably haven’t actually tried it–are using words like joke and farce to describe it.
But the more I think about Starter Edition, the more I think that’s something I hinted at in my earlier post: trialware. Or, in other words, a piece of software that has had an artificial limitation placed on it that greatly reduces its usefulness while still giving you enough power to learn the ropes and whet your appetite. One that has a relatively inexpensive upgrade path to a full version that doesn’t have the limitations. We already know that Windows 7 will be designed to permit easy upgrades from one version of the OS to another.
If Microsoft makes $25 or less per copy of Windows 7 Starter Edition that’s preinstalled on a computer (which is Ed’s guess) but can convince a meaningful minority of people who buy netbooks that run it to spend–oh, say, $70 to upgrade to Windows 7 Home Basic, it’ll be able to recover some of the Windows profits that are vanishing as the market shifts to netbooks and other super-cheap laptops. And if Starter’s limitations are truly onerous, you gotta think that a decent percentage of netbook buyers will be willing to pay Microsoft to eliminate the pain.
(I know that a lot of trialware times out after thirty days or otherwise becomes completely unsable, but not all of it–some of it is designed to continue working forever, but in a fahion that’s just annoying enough that you’ll spring for a paid edition. It’s that form of trialware that Starter Edition seems to me to be an example of.)
Meanwhile, another line of thought on Starter Edition that’s cropping up seems irrefutable to me: It’s not in Microsoft’s long-term interest to release a version of Windows that cripples the user’s ability to run Windows apps, thereby making it all the more tempting to use Web apps instead. Starter Edition’s limitations may not only make Linux a more viable alternative right away, but also push people into the browser, thereby making them less reliant on the Windows ecosystem over the long haul.
Oh, and is the idea of a computer with a fundamentally hobbled operating system unthinkable? Maybe so by today’s standards, but I’ve been writing about this stuff for long enough that I remember the days when it wasn’t uncommon for a computer’s base price to be sans OS, period. A computer with Starter Edition sounds like it will tippy-toe back in that direction without being completely unusable out of the box.
Note that none of the above amounts to a defense of Starter Edition, particularly: I’m just trying to figure out Microsoft’s thinking, and why it thinks Starter Edition makes sense. If real live consumers react to it as negatively as pundits have so far, it wouldn’t stun me to see Microsoft loosen the restrictions at some point–a Starter Edition that the market finds intolerable would need to be rethought quickly.
Those are my thoughts as of ten minutes to five on a Wednesday afternoon. Let’s end with a silly little poll: