Windows 7 Starter Edition: opportunity for Linux on netbooks

People are excited about Windows 7. Overall, reviews of the betas are overwhelmingly positive and it looks as though (not surprisingly) Microsoft has learned from the giant mistake that was Vista.

People are excited about Windows 7. Overall, reviews of the betas are overwhelmingly positive and it looks as though (not surprisingly) Microsoft has learned from the giant mistake that was Vista. There's just one potentially sticky wicket for Redmond: Windows 7 Starter Edition.

I bring this up because netbooks are increasingly finding their way into education and with good reason. They do almost everything that students need them to do and can be had for drastically less money than the average laptop. Their size makes them a natural choice for cramped desks and stuffed backbacks and their low cost makes them much more disposable than their 15"-ish counterparts (I know, not very green, but economically sensible when they will be suffering K-12 abuse).

So netbooks are great for us educators. Fine. We've established this. What Microsoft has established, however, is that, although Windows 7 will run well on netbooks (unlike Vista), most netbooks will be loaded with Windows 7 Starter Edition. According to the Wall Street Journal,

Netbooks are expected to run better on Windows 7 than Vista, which required more powerful hardware than netbooks offered. To encourage use of the new software, the company plans to offer a version called Starter that will be inexpensive but comes with significant limits. Besides only running three application programs at a time, Starter will also lack some spiffy graphical interface features of other versions of Windows 7.

Users will be able to get around these limitations for a price:

Customers who aren't satisfied will have the option to pay an additional fee to upgrade to a higher-end version of the software, a process that will involve unlocking advanced Windows 7 features that are already stored on their PCs. Pricing for Starter, or for the upgrade, isn't yet known.

Guess what? They can also get around these limitations with Linux. While none of the current netbook offerings are made to be multi-tasking beasts, Linux means they won't need to hog processor cycles with anti-malware software and can easily run OpenOffice, a web browser, an IM client, and music software at the same time. Without upgrading Starter Edition (whose 3-application limitations do not include anti-virus), they would have already hit the 3-app limit.

It strikes me that this is an opportunity for Linux that hasn't existed to date. If users wanted to run Windows, they could buy a netbook with XP Home and run whatever applications they wanted, up to the limitations of the hardware. Users have never experienced software-imposed limitations. I, for one, wouldn't want to be building a 1:1 program, advocating full classroom integration, and then tell teachers that students will hit a wall following a Twitter conversation in class, typing notes, and accessing information on the web. I wouldn't need to tell them that on Linux machines, especially if I kicked in a little money for RAM upgrades.

What do you think? Will anyone care? Is 3 apps enough? Or will Starter Edition's limitations be a real opportunity for Linux on netbooks?