Microsoft's Windows 7 Could Disappoint Netbook Users, Says Survey

Microsoft's Windows 7 Starter Edition, primarily meant for low-power PCs and ultra-portable netbooks, could disappoint some users who want features such as desktop personalization and DVD playback, suggests a new survey by online electronics marketplace Retrevo. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has suggested in the past that Microsoft will try and steer consumers away from netbooks and toward higher-priced "ultra-thins" that presumably run higher-margin versions of Windows 7.

Microsoft's version of Windows 7 for netbooks may disappoint some users, according to a new survey released by online electronics marketplace Retrevo.

Retrevo's survey found that 79 percent of the 1100 respondents surveyed were not planning on purchasing a netbook this year. Of the remaining 21 percent, 54 percent knew that Windows 7 came in different versions-such as Starter and Ultimate-but only 39 percent knew that the Windows 7 Starter edition lacked some Windows XP features such as desktop personalization and DVD Playback.

"Retrevo was not surprised to discover that 61 [percent] of consumers intending to buy a netbook computer were not aware of limitations in Windows 7 Starter Edition," explained a Nov. 5 posting on the Retrevo Blog. "When Retevo pointed out the differences, 56 percent of those respondents said they would not be satisfied if their net netbook came with Windows 7 Starter Edition."

Specifically, Retrevo's blog post suggests, consumers may not be aware that Windows 7 Starter Edition will not allow a netbook to play DVDs even if an external DVD drive is connected to the device. Windows 7 Starter Edition's lack of multi-monitor support, Windows XP Mode, Windows Media Center, and shiny Aero interface features may also have a negative impact on users.

Netbook sales have represented a bright spot for an otherwise moribund PC industry in 2009, with consumers gravitating toward the devices as an ultra-cheap and super-portable way to fulfill most of their tech needs.

Aware of their popularity, Microsoft introduced a method by which netbook users could download an install Windows 7 on their machines, a number of which lack DVD drives. From Microsoft's revamped online store, a stripped-down Windows 7 for Netbooks can be downloaded onto a bootable USB or burned to a DVD.

"For netbook users without DVD drivers, the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool [WUDT] will take an ISO image and create a bootable UDB 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."

However, those wishing to boot off a USB device or external DVD player will need to configure their BIOS in order to make that happen, a fact that may lead some netbook owners to seek assistance from someone more tech-minded.

(Update: As of Nov. 10, Microsoft seems to have removed the ability to purchase Windows 7 for Netbooks from its online store, possibly in a dispute over the tool's coding. More on this story as it develops.)

Despite the concession to netbooks for Windows 7, Microsoft has publically expressed an urge to pull consumers toward higher-priced devices.

During Microsoft's annual Financial Analyst Meeting on July 30, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told gathered analysts that his company's manufacturing partners would begin introducing ultra-thin PCs onto the market by the end of 2009. Those devices, which would feature larger screens and more processing power while maintaining portability, would presumably sell at a higher price point and run versions of Windows that offer Microsoft higher margins.

"We want people to be able to get the advantages of lightweight performance and be able to spend more money with us," Ballmer told the assembled analysts.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with a mention that Windows 7 for Netbooks is no longer available for sale on Microsoft's online store as of Nov. 10.