It seems that Microsoft has seen the light and decided to remove the arbitrary "three app limit" that was imposed on Windows 7 Starter edition, the edition most likely to make it onto netbooks.
Here's the announcement by Brandon LeBlanc on the Windows 7 Team blog:
For the first time, we will be making Windows 7 Starter available worldwide on small notebook PCs. We are also going to enable Windows 7 Starter customers the ability to run as many applications simultaneously as they would like, instead of being constricted to the 3 application limit that the previous Starter editions included.
I've been firmly opposed to this "three app limit" since I found out about it and was convinced that Microsoft was shooting itself in the foot with this move. Some people, for example, my blogging colleague Ed Bott, were seemed to me to be happy to have their netbooks neutered by Microsoft. I wasn't because it seemed like a waste of the netbook's power. I'm glad to see that this limitation has been lifted and users can run as many apps simultaneously as their netbook can handle.
There are still plenty of features missing from the Starter edition, although I think that most netbook users can either live without these features of work around them:
- Aero Glass, meaning you can only use the “Windows Basic” or other opaque themes. It also means you do not get Taskbar Previews or Aero Peek.
- Personalization features for changing desktop backgrounds, window colors, or sound schemes.
- The ability to switch between users without having to log off.
- Multi-monitor support.
- DVD playback.
- Windows Media Center for watching recorded TV or other media.
- Remote Media Streaming for streaming your music, videos, and recorded TV from your home computer.
- Domain support for business customers.
- XP Mode for those that want the ability to run older Windows XP programs on Windows 7.
Let's also remember that there's a maximum hardware specification that netbook OEMs will need to adhere to:
- CPU: Single core CPUs no faster than 2GHz and with a TDP no greater than 15W.
- Screen size: No larger than 10.2″.
- RAM: 2GB.
- Storage: 250GB HDD or 64GB SSD.
I do have to pick up on one point that LeBlanc makes:
We believe these changes will make Windows 7 Starter an even more attractive option for customers who want a small notebook PC for very basic tasks, like browsing the web, checking email and personal productivity. [emphasis added]
This idea that netbooks are "a small notebook PC for very basic tasks" is silly. Netbooks are very capable, as capable as some of the top end business notebooks from a few years ago.
It seems that Moore's Law has caught up with Microsoft, and it's now having to face a world where the hardware is so cheap and so powerful that it makes the OS seem expensive and uncompetitive. This trick of forcing a higher-priced OS on users who wanted fewer limitations used to work in a world where the only alternative was to go higher up the price scale to Apple. Now with Linux doing well on netbooks, that trick could backfire, and this move seems to indicate that Microsoft knows that and is facing up to it.