Microsoft Windows 7 on USB: Two Reasons Why

Microsoft is still refusing to comment on whether it will offer Windows 7 Starter or another stripped-down version of its upcoming operating system on a USB drive for small notebooks or netbooks. However, offering the Windows 7 operating system on a USB memory stick could provide Microsoft with certain advantages as it tries to maintain its lead in operating system market share for the ultraportable devices.

Microsoft has been sticking to a strict "No comment" on rumors that a version of the upcoming Windows 7 operating system will be available on a USB memory stick. However, analysts are offering a handful of reasons why such a move would be good for users wanting to install Windows 7 on mininotebooks, known popularly as netbooks, and built by a broad range of manufacturers including Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

If Microsoft does plan to issue Windows 7 on USB, however, it has kept a tight lid on the news. Although Cnet first reported on June 26 that Microsoft was considering the option, citing an unnamed source, the company itself has not confirmed the report.

"We do not have anything to share about distribution of Windows 7 beyond the packaging announcement we made earlier this week," a Microsoft spokesperson told eWEEK, referring to the announcement that disks for the operating system will ship in environmentally friendly boxes.

Some analysts say they believe porting the Windows 7 Starter edition, a stripped-down version of the operating system, onto a USB stick would potentially make sense.

"I can think of two reasons to do this," Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner, said in an interview. "Not all netbooks have DVD drives, and if they want people to upgrade, this may be the only way." Also, "For netbooks with low RAM, the stick could later be used for ReadyBoost to improve performance."

ReadyBoost is a feature of both Windows Vista and Windows 7 that uses a USB drive or other portable memory device for disk-caching purposes.

A USB stick would certainly provide an easy way to upgrade netbooks to Windows 7, although such drives could potentially cost more than a disk on a per-unit basis. Microsoft claimed in April that Windows was being run on about 96 percent of netbooks, widely acknowledged to be the fastest-growing segment of the PC market.

Unlike the Vista and Windows XP Starter editions, the Windows 7 Starter will have the ability to run more than three concurrent applications on a PC, boosting the potential productivity of the netbook.

Brandon LeBlanc, a Windows communications manager at Microsoft, wrote in a May blog post that netbooks will not necessarily be limited to running Windows 7 Starter.

"Windows 7 Starter should not be considered 'the netbook SKU,' as most machines in this category can run any edition of Windows 7," LeBlanc said. "Many of our beta users have installed Windows 7 Ultimate on their small notebook PCs and have given us very positive feedback on their experience."

However, the Windows 7 Starter will not include some of the features associated with more high-powered editions of the operating system, such as Aero Glass, certain personalization features, the ability to switch between users, DVD playback and Remote Media Center. It will also lack XP mode for those wanting to run older Windows XP programs on Windows 7.