Windows 7 Starter Edition: The best version of Windows yet

Posted by Rob Enderle, principal analyst, Enderle Group

Over the years one of the words that have consistently been connected to Windows is the word “Bloat”.   Year over year, ever since Windows 95, we complain that Windows has become too bloated, calling it bloatware and suggesting Microsoft needs to start over to create something leaner.  

Well Microsoft finally listened with Windows 7 and it is leaner than Windows Vista.   But the leanest version of Windows 7 is starter edition, it is also the least expensive, and yet I’ve been told that retailers don’t want it, preferring Windows XP.   

This is giving me a WTF moment and I’m really wondering who in their right mind would rather have an OS that is approaching 10 years old (XP was the maintenance release of Windows 2000) instead of lean current generation OS on new hardware.   If we wanted a lean product there is simply nothing leaner in the Windows 7 world than Starter Edition.

Granted this will only be available on new Netbook like products with a 10.2” screen, a 256 GB drive (64 GB if is an SSD) and no more than 1GB memory.   But I’ve been running the Starter Edition on a Netbook for a couple of weeks now and, this feels like the stripped down version of Windows folks were asking for so why would they rather have Windows XP?

Starter Features
Microsoft removed the 3 application limit that initially made it look like Starter Edition was more of a crippled product and it now has the typical Paint, Notepad, Calculator, Windows Fax and Scan, WordPad, Windows Firewall, Windows Search, and Windows Backup.  

It includes the basic game package of FreeCell, Hearts, Minesweeper, Purple Palace, Solitaire, and Spider Solitaire.  It has the updated components of XPS View, User Account Control (which is much less alloying in all versions of Windows), Parental Controls, Windows ReadyDrive, and IE8.  
 
This is just the basics, no Aero interface (but then XP doesn’t have that either), and things like a media player and DVD burner you’ll have to download from the web or buy (which most seem to do anyway).   Starter is just a clean basic OS and, if you want more, for a marginal charge you can upgrade it in place to Windows 7 premium and get all those features you didn’t know you were going to miss back.   

Why Microsoft Thinks You Won’t Want Starter Edition
Now, don’t get me wrong, even they think Starter Edition is better than Windows XP, but they have always argued people don’t want a stripped down OS.   The problem, they say, is that while no one wants all the features no one wants the same number of them either and there are always one or two things they will miss with a basic product like Windows Starter edition.

Because they can’t tell what one or two things they are everyone gets everything and that, to them, makes for happier customers.  Granted you have so much storage headroom these days I can see the argument that leaving stuff out you might want would be silly.   But what if you are one of those “none of the above” people?   You’re buying a Netbook after all which suggests you don’t want everything and the kitchen sink; you want to keep it simple.

Old Fashioned OS

But I’m thinking that if you’re on XP you really aren’t that interested in the visual candy anyway and you aren’t buying high end products so touch screens are out of your budget eliminating two of the high end features Starter Edition doesn’t have.   

You’re buying a netbook suggesting you could care less about Media Center (which is better for a desktop anyway) and for any additional features you install iTunes and other utilities that you like better anyway.

This is the way it used to be back in the early days of DOS and Windows.   In fact, way back in the first decade of Windows even Windows itself was an extra you paid for.     These days getting rid of the graphical user interface would be painful but, if what you want is a lean OS and just the basics Starter Edition may be your kind of OS.

Wrapping Up
I wonder if all PCs shouldn’t default to Windows 7 Starter edition and then provide the users with the option to upgrade to higher end versions as needed so you only paid for the feature you wanted, and when you paid, you’d see what you got for your money.   Now most of what you get you take for granted and probably don’t appreciate much.   You take it away and you might appreciate it enough to pay extra to get it and, I’ll bet you’d see the value of the result better and likely feel if you did upgrade, the extra value was worth the price.  Something I imagine more than a few of you don’t feel now.  

I also wonder if this might make things easier because often a new system comes in and you immediately need to spend hours patching it, where with a leaner OS, there would be less to patch and you would end up downloading current editions of the features you missed.    

I can imagine a future OS, similar to Google Chrome, where you’d only have an operating system kernel and a browser when you bought a new system and then would go to the web and select the features and applications you wanted.   After a few hours of unattended upgrades would come back to a PC that was customized for you with only the stuff you wanted (just getting rid of the crapware  would have me looking forward to this).  

If you have a moment, I’d like to know whether you are more of a Windows 7 Ultimate, or Windows 7 Starter Edition fan.  What say you, everything but the kitchen sink (Ultimate), or just the basics (Windows Starter Edition)?  In short, given the desire to have a lean OS, do you think Windows 7 Starter Edition is the best version of Windows yet?

Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts
are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and
either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic,
on how to best take advantage of them. Currently he provides his
services to most of the major technology and media companies.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.