Windows 7 Starter Edition Is Too Wimpy for New Netbooks

Nokia’s new Booklet 3G netbook looks impressive. With its sleek aluminum shell, 12-hour battery, Wi-Fi, 3G broadband, and GPS, it’s a slick package (on paper, anyway, since we haven’t tested it yet) that should appeal to folks who want a mini-note with the capabilities of full-size notebooks.

The Booklet 3G is one of several premium netbooks that are just now reaching the market. Two other examples, both priced below or near $500, include the Samsung Go, a new mini-note with a 10.1-inch display, a 1.3-megapixel Webcam, and 1GB of RAM (upgradable to 2GB); and Sony’s first netbook, the Vaio W, which has a 10-inch screen with an impressive (for a netbook) resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels.

Both the Samsung and Sony netbooks come with Windows XP. Nokia says the Booklet will come with Windows 7—no surprise there—but it hasn’t said which version of Win 7. Will it run Windows 7 Starter Edition (SE), a barebones operating system built for cheap netbooks? Or will it feature Windows 7 Home Premium, a far more capable OS that Microsoft has targeted for desktops and full-size portables?

Netbooks are evolving rapidly. Many of the latest models aren’t the flimsy, underpowered portables of a year ago. They’re acquiring faster processors, higher-resolution displays, and better graphics. In short, they’re too good for Starter Edition (SE), which smells a lot like trialware. SE lacks the cool tools that make Windows 7 fun, including the sleek Aero Peek interface, changeable desktop wallpaper, and premium games, as well as handy usability tools like the Windows Mobility Center. It also doesn’t have multitouch capabilities that seem particularly well-suited to netbooks, with their tiny keyboards and mousepads.

Given Starter Edition’s lameness, you’d think that netbook vendors might shun it and install Windows 7 Home Premium instead. Not so. Samsung says its Go netbook will ship with SE, starting in November. Nokia’s Win 7 plans are fuzzy at this point. And Dell recently told me that its netbooks will continue to offer a variety of OS options, including “Ubuntu and Windows-based editions.”

Something’s fishy here. It’s not as if the entire genre of netbooks is too wimpy to run Windows 7 Home Premium. If that were the case, Microsoft would have announced recently that Win 7 SE users will be able to upgrade to Home Premium for $80. Rather, this is about Microsoft’s desire to cripple the netbook category and upsell consumers to Home Premium.

Sadly, many buyers will shell out $400 or so for a reasonably-powered netbook with a 10-inch display, only to learn they’ve been saddled with a feeble version of Windows 7. A classic bait-and-switch? It sure looks that way. It’s also a recipe for consumer ire. Nobody wants to pay a fairly significant sum for a consumer electronics device, only to learn they must pay an additional $80 for features they were expecting.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com.

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