Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Microsoft Hobbles the Fun

Microsoft plans to limit your use of its next operating system, if you own a netbook.

Windows 7 may see limited release as early as this week. See my blog from earlier this month on why you may not get too excited, especially given its continued incompatibility with the tens of thousands of programs written for XP.

And now there's a new twist: Windows 7 will come hobbled for use on netbooks and other inexpensive computers, allowing use of only three applications at a time.

It's easy to get up to three applications at once, as I'm doing right now (my browser, a text editor, and Microsoft Word). If I go to site that opens Windows Media, I'd need to close one of the others, as I would to listen to music in the background, or to use a calculator, or open Excel tables or a Outlook/Mail.

While netbooks and small laptops have limited computing power, that's not the trouble here. Though Windows 7 is still bloated (using about the same memory as Vista. The 'improvement' is that it uses no more), it's still capable of running more than three applications, or at least it was, until Microsoft introduced this lock.

Why the change? Microsoft says it has a narrow profit margin on netbook operating systems, and while I have a hard time picturing it being as small as the $15 they claim, I do believe they should make money on their sales. We're used to demanding things for free - free shipping, free upgrades - but Microsoft has to pay developers to make a new OS, and by paying for our purchases, we support those improvements.

But it's one thing to offer additional features for a cost, like a modest charge for improved releases, and another to disable features that already exist. Apple's Quicktime is a good example of the former: the basic program comes free with a computer, and advanced users can buy and download expanded editing tools.

Running multiple applications isn't an improved feature; it's a basic offering for any current operating system, and paying more to get it feels like a shakedown.

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