by Shane O'Neill

Microsoft Turns to Windows 7 to Solve Netbook Problem

Nov 07, 20083 mins
Data Center

There are little things in life that nag at you long enough that you can’t ignore them anymore: a growing leak stain in your ceiling, a strange sound coming from your car, Miley Cyrus, Frank TV. 

For Microsoft, that little thing is netbooks.  

Yes, those cheap, low-powered, 8-inch screen mini-notebooks running Linux or Windows XP are the latest Vista killers. Data from IDC shows that 6.5 million netbooks were shipped during the first three quarters of 2008, up just a tad from 181,000 the year before. 

Microsoft has been open about the threat that netbooks pose to Vista. In its quarterly earnings report, the software giant pointed directly at explosive netbook sales as one of the main reasons for the sluggish year-over-year Vista growth. 

Microsoft has no plans to push Vista on netbooks (Vista is actually running on some netbooks, but only 1.5 percent of them, according to IDC). The hardware requirements of Vista and the licensing costs are too much for netbook OEMs. Only the newest and strongest netbooks could handle Vista. 

So while it’s clear Microsoft has acknowledged the netbook problem, it’s been unclear what it plans to do about it. 

That seems to be changing as more news rolls out of WinHEC in Los Angeles this week. Microsoft will lean heavily on Windows 7 to be the solution to the netbook problem. Yesterday, the company stated outright that netbooks with solid-state drives with as little as 16GB of storage capacity will be able to comfortably run Windows 7. 

Microsoft has been hinting at the Windows 7/netbook connection for a few weeks now. It has been adamant about how much more nimble, lighter and faster Windows 7 will be than Vista. At PDC, senior VP of Windows engineering Steven Sinofsky proudly displayed a netbook running Windows 7 to much applause. 

Microsoft bloggers agree that having Windows 7 run swiftly on netbooks is a necessity. Computerworld blogger Preston Gralla thinks that Windows 7 will be so successful on netbooks that it will be the undoing of Linux.

Joe Wilcox of Microsoft Watch is a bit more skeptical about exactly how smoothly Windows will run on netbooks, but adds, “Windows 7 has to run on netbooks. Microsoft has no other choice but to make it happen. Netbooks are the computing category of the moment, and demand will only increase as the economy falters, I predict.” 

I concur. But where does this leave Vista? (I always seem to be asking that question) It’s not part of the netbook strategy, that’s for sure. Windows 7 is the lean and light OS for that job for the future. But lest you forget, 7 doesn’t come out for another year, and that’s an awfully long time to be having non-Vista netbooks fly off the shelves.