Microsoft Offers Windows 7 on USB Drives for Netbooks

Microsoft is allowing netbook users to download Windows 7, its new operating system, onto a bootable USB or burn it onto a DVD, in yet another move by Redmond to disseminate the operating system to as many users as possible. Although Microsoft reported yet another quarter of declining revenues, executives remain hopeful that Windows 7, rising PC sales and a sunnier economic outlook will translate into a more profitable 2010.

Microsoft has developed a solution for porting Windows 7 onto netbooks that lack a DVD drive: a USB memory stick. The feature was announced during the Windows 7 launch event in New York City on Oct. 22.

Specifically, netbook users can use Microsoft's newly revamped online store to download Windows 7 for Netbooks onto a bootable USB, or burn it onto a DVD.

"For netbook users without DVD drives, the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool [WUDT] will take an ISO image and create a bootable USB device that can be used to install Windows 7," Microsoft spokesperson Brandon LeBlanc wrote in an Oct. 22 entry on The Windows Blog. "The WUDT can also create a Windows 7 installation DVD from the ISO file as well."

The WUDT will work with PCs already running Windows XP or Vista. However, there are also some caveats for netbook users looking to take the USB route.

"Please note that in order to boot off of a USB device (or external DVD player), you will need to configure your BIOS to boot off of that device," LeBlanc added in his blog post. "If you're not comfortable making this type of BIOS change I recommend you seek assistance from your favorite 'tech geek.'"

The WUDT plays into Microsoft's strategy to port Windows 7 onto as many devices as possible. Now that the operating system has been released, Redmond needs it to be a sizable hit among both consumers and the enterprise in order to help reverse a declining revenue trend.

Despite the popularity of netbooks, PC sales have been slumping due to the recession, and weighing down Microsoft's revenues in the process. On Oct. 23, Microsoft released earnings for the first quarter of fiscal 2010 that showed a 14 percent decline year-over-year from the same quarter in 2008, with revenues of $12.92 billion.

During that period, Microsoft's operating income, net income and diluting earnings per share for the quarter declined 25 percent, 18 percent and 17 percent, respectively. Microsoft is hopeful, though, that its new collection of products plus a corporate culture increasingly devoted to streamlining will ultimately translate into positive earnings in 2010.

"Windows division revenue will be in line with overall PC growth," Chris Liddell, Microsoft's chief financial officer, said during an Oct. 23 earnings call. "Our strategies will position us to take advantage of the economic recovery."

Liddell expressed hope in what he termed "good" feedback from corporations with regard to adopting Windows 7. Although 80 percent of all commercial PCs continue to run Windows XP, according to a recent report from research firm Forrester, the support for XP's Service Packs 2 and 3 will end in April 2014.

Long before that point, of course, Microsoft is hoping that people will have made the leap to Windows 7-even if they need a USB device to make that happen.