Windows 7 Starter Edition: It's Trialware!

By  |  Wednesday, April 22, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Windows 7Yesterday, 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:


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10 Comments For This Post

  1. Pete Says:

    There’s a missing option in this poll:

    “…it will be a problem for professional/expert users, but not for most casual home users”

    Obviously, an OS version that only lets you run 3 apps at once is useless for heavy computer users, i.e., the sorts of people who write and read technology websites and blogs.

    However, I have to wonder whether the vast majority of casual users actually do run lots of apps at once. A browser, an IM client, and… what? An MS Office app? I know we all want to pile on Microsoft for this move, but it’s not like they’re forcing this limit on all users. If it gives a segment of the market a lower-priced OS option that still meets their needs, what’s the problem?

  2. Josh Says:

    One major difference between Starter Edition and traditional trialware is that trialware — the type that perpetually annoys the user to purchase a license, at least — is usually free and has few or no limitations. Its ridiculous for Microsoft to cripple the OS, charge for it, and then ask the user to spend more for a non-crippled version. Will the total final cost add up to a single Home Basic license?

    Microsoft’s anti-consumer practices are just absurd. Just calling it “Starter Edition” is surely meant to annoy the consumer, and to make us feel as though we’re missing out on the real thing. Microsoft is the high-tech equivalent of the sleezy used car salesman looking to sell you a lemon along with an extended warranty.

  3. Drew Says:

    Last year when I visited my 78 year old Aunt, she said she wanted a computer. I went to Best Buy, happened to hit a great sale (first 30 people type sale) and got a cheap laptop for about $300. I got it home, set it up, and she now does exactly one thing (AV aside, which won’t be counted against the three app total)with the laptop. Web browsing; specifically, newspaper sites.

    She never runs more than one app, and has shown no interest to move on to more apps. I think Pete is on to something, as I would not want to be limited (thought on my netbook, I do little more than browse and e-mail) but people who go to, I might argue, would fall under the power user label. There are a lot of people, I would venture, who never do more than use a browser.

  4. Michael Johnston Says:

    I believe Microsoft’s strategy for this product may very well backfire. Instead of gently encouraging users who want to run more apps to upgrade to a higher version of Windows, I think it may push them towards web-based apps. Increasingly, the browser is the desktop, and Microsoft’s strategy may likely reinforce this notion, which is probably the last thing they want to do. But having been unsuccessful in gaining the virtual monopoly on the Internet that they have held on the desktop, what other viable options do they have?

  5. JustCallMeBen Says:

    I agree on the whole piece, but I just want to add this:

    “…a piece of software that has had an artificial limitation placed on it…”

    Isn’t that exactly what OSX has: the check for apple-only hardware, which starts infinite loops when the check fails?
    Just saying: windows uses annoying artificial limitations to force people into buying a more expensive version of Windows, but Apple does the same thing to force people whop want OSX to use Apple-hardware.

  6. Josh Says:

    “Just saying: windows uses annoying artificial limitations to force people into buying a more expensive version of Windows, but Apple does the same thing to force people whop want OSX to use Apple-hardware.”

    So because Apple does something similar, that makes it okay for Microsoft to do it? I don’t follow your logic. Both companies engage in anti-consumer practices, but Apple is the lesser of the two evils if for no other reason that its market share is too insignificant to push its weight around.

    Microsoft gently nudged the entire world into vendor lock-in on the desktop and now they’re leveraging that “advantage” to effectively brick netbooks for at least a portion of the market.

  7. JDoors Says:

    I thought the Starter Edition was to be limited to extrememly basic hardware (i.e., the least expensive netbooks, computers sold mostly to developing contries, etc.), everything else gets Home Basic or better. The vast majority of consumers will never even SEE this edition.

    Anyone unwilling to put up with Starter Edition’s limitations is not likely to purchase hardware with S.E. already on it (since they know they need better hardware than that anyway) and is NOT going to install S.E. on their current hardware (since they already have a better OS).

    Limiting the OS when you know in advance it will only be installed on extremely limited hardware makes perfect sense.

  8. Tony Says:

    This just sounds plain sleazy to me. It’s almost like those fake anti-virus programs, once they’re on your computer, they constantly request that you pay for them, to remove the virus that they have put on your computer in the first place. Once you have starter edition, it constantly will ask you to pay for an upgraded version, to remove the annoying limitations that were put there by starter edition in the first place.

  9. articles Says:

    Article on ( that talked about windows 7 starter edition and had suggestions on a better way to implement the starter edition for netbooks.

  10. Omer Nases Says:

    For anyone that needs a Windows 7 Free Download copy with activation visit: , this is completely free.The download link is there thanks to the razor team :) cheers!

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    [...] Windows 7 Starter Edition: It’s Trialware! Technologizer – Daly City,CA,USA By Harry McCracken | Posted at 4:52 pm on Wednesday, April 22, 2009 Yesterday, I wrote about Ed Bott’s hands-on experience with Windows 7 Starter Edition, … See all stories on this topic [...]

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