Microsoft appears to have decided that any netbook with more than 10.2-inch screen isn't really a netbook at all, and should pay more for a copy of Windows 7. This is Redmond's version of the question facing the hardware companies themselves: How to maximize netbook sales without cannibalizing sales of laptops.
Answer: You can't, though Microsoft's pricing could force up prices on new, larger-screen netbooks. It could also land the company back in court.
The net is rife with rumors that Microsoft will establish a "maximum specification" after which netbooks will pay more for a copy of Windows 7. All of these trackback to a site called TechArp, which claims to have access to the new specs. Microsoft itself isn't talking, though the specs look legit.
The big difference between supposed specs and the maximums for Windows XP and Vista netbook pricing is that with the older operating systems a netbook can have up to a 12.1-inch screen. That seems quite reasonable. The new 10.2-inch Windows 7 limitation would make anything larger a laptop, regardless of how the marketplace or potential customers see them.
As someone interested in purchasing the new 11.6-inch Acer netbook, I will admit it is intended as a laptop replacement. But, only for a Windows laptop I wouldn't otherwise replace. My old Dell is nearing the end of its long life and I need a machine for some simple, low-tech tasks related to my volunteer work.
Give me the right machine for the right price and I will buy. Otherwise, I will just use a Mac notebook that I already own and be done with it.
Unlike those with pencil-thin fingers, I need the larger keyboard that goes along with the 11.6-inch screen. A 10-inch screen just isn't very useable for me.
I am willing to spend $350 on such a laptop, but I am price-sensitive, especially in this economy. If Microsoft increasing the OS cost were to raise the cost of the machine to $399, I'd be out of the market.
Microsoft needs to be very careful that its attempts to keep netbooks from lowering its laptop revenue don't end up costing it price-sensitive customers.
David Coursey knows a laptop when he sees one. Follow him on Twitter and send e-mail to him via www.coursey.com/contact.