Microsoft has put out feelers among the beta-testing community for individuals in a number of countries outside the U.S. who'd be interested in trying Windows 7 on lower-power PCs.
It's not clear whether Microsoft's Windows team is interested in testing a new netbook-specific SKU of Windows 7 or perhaps something more like Windows 7 Starter Edition -- a low-end version of Windows tailored for emerging- and developing-market customers.
(Note: Microsoft came back and said this SKU is not a netbook SKU but so far hasn't clarified what it is. The official statement is further down in this post.)
According to an e-mail invitation sent to testers earlier this month which I had a chance to see, Microsoft is seeking testers to run a test version of Windows 7 on machines that sound a lot like netbooks (except for the fact they include DVD drives -- something that some purists say disqualifies a machine from being a "true" netbook).
Microsoft is confining the new test to participants in Chile, Egypt, Lebanon, Brazil, Jordan and India, according to the invitation.
Microsoft is looking for testers with machines that adhere to the following spec list:
- 1 GHz processor
- 1 GB of system memory
- 16 GB of available disk space
- Support for DX9 graphics
- DVD-R/W Drive
- Internet access
From the note sent to select testers:
"You are invited to join a beta trial for a specialized version of Windows 7. Your geographic location may make you a good candidate for this providing feedback on this specialized version of Windows 7. You will still have access to the Windows 7 Ultimate SKU, in addition you will be able to test this additional SKU."
The beta version of Windows 7 that Microsoft began offering recently to millions of potential testers is Windows 7 Ultimate. But the company also is privately testing at least two other Windows 7 SKUs: Windows 7 Home Premium and, now, this unnamed additional SKU.
I asked Microsoft for more information on this SKU and received the following response from a spokesperson:
"We don't have anything new to share and we're sticking to what we've said before... Windows 7 Beta is not a final version of the OS, and we continue to test it with users and gain and incorporate customer feedback."
Update (8:25 p.m. ET) : Microsoft is now saying that this SKU is not specific to netbooks. An additional statement from the spokesperson: "The email mention(ed) in your article concerns Windows testing, but it is not netbook-related." Does that mean this is Windows 7 Starter Edition? I asked and got back a no comment.
Netbooks are a double-edged sword for Microsoft, as Microsoft's earnings report on January 22 made clear. Without revenues from netbooks, Microsoft's Client revenues would undoubtedly would have been a lot worse than they were. But netbook sales are cannibalizing sales of more expensive PCs and Microsoft is making lower margins on Windows on netbooks than higher-end machines.
Microsoft has demonstrated test versions of Windows 7 running on netbooks. Few netbooks currently run Vista because of its size and memory requirements; they typically run Windows XP or Linux.