Will Chrome OS Lead to More Powerful Win7 Netbooks?

Chrome OS may lead to higher-performance netbooks, but many of them will not be running Google's next-generation operating system.

Why? Because Chrome OS could force Microsoft to stop crippling netbooks to avoid competition with more expensive notebooks.

Blame Microsoft for all those 10.1-inch screens, underpowered Atom processors, skimpy 1GB of memory, 160GB hard drives, and the not-very-good user experience on netbooks running Windows XP.

On newer netbooks, blame Redmond for Windows 7 Starter Edition. It will neither play a DVD nor join a domain. Starter Edition users also cannot customize their desktops, which lack the Aero look-and-feel. And the crippling 1GB memory limit remains.

Starter Edition has already been criticized as "too wimpy" for netbooks and a survey finds potential users do not want it on their new machines. Barely introduced, Starter Edition has already started to smell like Windows ME, which itself bears a stinch much like Windows Vista. See a pattern of much-hated operating systems here?

Microsoft has used its power to force netbook manufacturers to cripple their netbooks. This worked when Microsoft was the only game in town, but with Chrome OS due to arrive in about a year, Microsoft needs a new game plan.

Microsoft very much wants to keep netbooks from being used in corporate accounts. If it can force you and I to opt for a more expensive notebook or at least an $80 upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium, that is a win for Redmond, too.

However, by next Thanksgiving, I will be able to choose a blazing fast--to hear Google describe it--netbook running Chrome OS. It will not be able to do everything Win7 does, but it will compare favorably with Starter Edition, and would seem to be friendlier for online media.

The reason this matters to both Microsoft and users is simple: Money.

Selling a netbook for $300 does not allow manufacturers to pay Microsoft as much for the operating system the sale of a $1,000 notebook does. Thus, Microsoft has an interest in limiting netbook performance so customers will instead buy more expensive notebooks.

Users, of course, want inexpensive, powerful computers. Netbooks are popular for just that reason, but could be more popular if they weren't intentionally held back, performance-wise.

By continuing to limit netbook performance, Microsoft will force Windows 7 netbooks, essentially, to take on Google Chrome OS from a self-imposed position of weakness.

Microsoft's should allow manufacturers to create the very best Windows 7 netbooks they can, ahead of Chrome OS' arrival.

If Redmond improves netbook performance, potential Chrome customers may realize that a fully functional operating system ultimately beats one that may be fast, but is also brain dead (as in unable to run the apps users want or need).

Microsoft's limit on netbook performance is bad news for customers. If the company fails to change, Microsoft deserves whatever punishment Chrome OS can deliver. I'm betting change is in the wind.

David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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