Windows 7 Starter Edition - Is It Really That Bad?

The Windows 7 beta and release candidate that some of us have been running are the Ultimate versions. Given the option to test any SKU that we want, why not go for the best one?

The thing is that the version that most of us will be using won’t be the top one. Microsoft said before that it expects that the Home Premium version to be the most popular one – especially bundled with decent pre-built machines. While Home Premium will be enough for most of us, what about lesser versions?

Windows 7 Starter Edition is expected to be the OS for low-cost netbooks. With the lowest licensing fee, OEMs wanting to keep costs low will go for the cheapest version of Windows 7. But will Starter Edition do? With the three-applications-open-at-a-time limitation, many users are already writing Starter Edition off as something unusable. To find out more, Ed Bott last month blogged on ZDNet about his time with Starter Edition, and some of his findings might surprise you.

“For starters, that three-app limit isn’t as cut and dried as it sounds,” Bott wrote. “Well, for starters, you can open as many windows as you want from a single program. So if you want to open 15 tabs in your browser, six images in your photo-editing program, and a couple of instant messenger windows, you can do it.”

System applications such as Windows Explorer, Control Panel, Task Manager, Command Prompt and even desktop gadgets do not count as applications, so you can navigate through your system tools as much as you like without stepping into the three-application limit. Antivirus software also seems to live outside the three-app limit, as does some system utilities that start up and reside in the system tray.

Bott concluded that Starter Edition proved adequate for netbooks when used as the way they are intended. “In short, when I used this system as a netbook, it worked just fine. On a netbook, most of the tasks you’re likely to tackle are going to take place in a browser window anyway. … If I tried to use this system as a conventional notebook, running multiple Microsoft Office or OpenOffice aps, playing music in iTunes or Windows Media Player, and using third-party IM programs, I would probably be incredibly frustrated with the limitations of Starter Edition.”

How do you use your netbook? Would Windows 7 Starter Edition be good enough, or will upgrading be one of the first things you'll do?

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • I don't see why they are ASSUMING that ONLY NETBOOK USERS WILL INSTALL THE STARTER EDITION. Also, why restrict the number of programs? Redmond sure is trying hard to loose market share using very poor logic and reasoning skills.
  • alvine
    i think hackers will find a way around this
    just my opinion
  • mtyermom
    I could also see this coming standard on ultra low cost desktops, but I doubt MS wants it there.
  • 08nwsula
    This is kind of like Vista's User Account Control. Both had good intentions, but really were not what people needed. Just like UAC, I think this new concept wont last very long.
  • tenor77
    It's bad if this includes start up programs that most users neglect to manage.
  • I use my netbook daily.

    At a minimum, I have my email client (Evolution), a web brower (Firefox) and an IM program open (pidgin). With Win7 I'd be at the limit right there, so say I get an email with a .doc file: I'd have to close either my IM program or web broswer to view it??? Edit an image in Gimp? Complete garbage. Makes me even more glad I switched to Linux long ago.

    The only way the usage he describes would be typical is if people had no other choice but starter edition. Of course MS knows this, and is hoping these duped people are daft enough to pay for an upgrade to an OS that is actually usable.
  • if AV does not count as a program, I'd agree. Set Azureus in msconfig bootup programs, and perhaps it's not counted as a program.
    On my mini notebook I generally have anti virus/firewall/popupblocker, firefox upto 12 tabs, eeectl (to boost processor speed and wifi range), mousepad drivers, sometimes a movie with wmp.
    I'd never run wmp together with office on my mininotebook. the screen is too small and I just can't do 2 things at the same time. MSN Messenger alikes, I no longer use. If AV and perhaps explorer / internet explorer windows are not counted in the 3 programs it is plenty sufficient I'd think; although on my eeepc, if I would run eeectl, mousepad driver (synaptics pointing device) and GMAbooster I can no longer do anything else with it...
  • LordConrad
    I would never notice it. I am very one-track minded and I never have more than one or two windows open at a time anyway, on my desktop or my laptop. I never understood how people can get work done with so much crap open at once.
  • mrfisthand
    It's fine, IF it's cheap and doesn't take up much space. Anyone who's dealt with XP on a SSD netbook knows what I mean here.
  • What are the differences between the Starter edition and the one just next to it? Is it only the 3 apps limitation? if so, The price difference will go with it: You can pay less and get a limitation.

    Just like XP, Hackers will find a way to turn a starter edition into a Ultimate edition.