Windows 7 Starter Edition for netbooks loses 3-app limit

Capricious limitation -- of allowing only three apps to run concurrently -- was expected to be reversed.

A reversal seemed highly likely from the moment Microsoft announced a three-application limit in the Windows 7 Starter Edition OS planned for netbooks. You could practically hear the industry utter a collective boo even before the electronic ink was dry on that Microsoft decision. Credit Paul Thurrott who got the goods about Microsoft removing the app limit.

The three-app limit (a max of three applications running concurrently) was Microsoft's way of stopping users from taking W7 Starter Edition and running it on more powerful hardware, figuring netbook users could get by with just running three apps concurrently. It may even be questionable whether most netbooks can run much more than three apps anyway. (I'm still not convinced networks will be much more than a very small niche part the market, but then again, that's for a different blog post. ) But the last thing Microsoft needs to do is help out full featured netbook contender Linux, by imposing seemingly capricious limitations like the app limit.

As a product developer, it has been my experience that customers hate what they perceive as arbitrary software limitations, resulting in something we frequently call "crippleware". All of us in the network world can remember back to the days when Check Point priced their software based on the number of IP addresses exposed on the outside interface of the firewall. Under the covers it was still the exact same software, with a governor applied to restrict outgoing network traffic to a certain number of IP addresses, unless more dollars were forked over for more IP addresses. I'm sure no one put a proxy server in place behind the firewall to fool it into thinking there were only a few internal IP addresses trying to get through the firewall. Nah.

Customers generally will accept that lower priced software has fewer features compared to more expensive, higher end versions. The problem here is that isn't the case with the Linux alternative. All the same Linux stuff is available on a netbook, no features were removed or crippled, and the $0.00 Linux price is also very attractive. Just like Vista's Home and Home Premium editions have fewer and more features, respectively, Microsoft will either have to figure out if they can still apply that same approach for netbooks, or be forced to rely on the speed and processing power of the lower spec'd netbooks to be the limiting factor.

On the flip side, Microsoft's gaining a lot of value by being so transparent about Windows 7 decisions like the 3 app limit. It's reminiscent of the recent reversal of the decision to lower the default UAC setting in Windows 7. (See this related blog post .) After some very vocal feedback, Microsoft has now reversed both of these decisions early enough to make adjustments prior to the Windows 7 product launch.

Credit Microsoft for not only listening, but also changing these kinds of decisions in time to include them in the final product. That's very promising, and is something I hope we'll see more of.

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Mitchell Ashley

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