(There’s that interrobang again – it’s showing up more and more! I am again incredulous and amazed.) A story on Betanews, referring to another in The Wall Street Journal, speaks about the Microsoft assertion that Windows 7 will be possible as an operating system choice on all netbooks.

Well of course it will!

Anyone who knows about computers and the history of Windows, knows that Microsoft always low balls the processor and memory requirements – every time. On the original Windows 3.1, which, for most who remember, was the first revision to gain wide acceptance (before that, Windows was curious anomaly, and many thought Gates was crazy), the box recommendation was 4 MB of memory. Anyone who tried using Windows 3.1 with 4 MB of memory learned that what they would get is some nice graphics, not multitasking – anyone who tried to multitask with only 4 MB was in for some serious time spent with the hourglass icon. Back then, 8 MB was the bare minimum, and 16 MB was the point at which Windows 3.1 was actually usable without irritation.

Looking not as far back, Microsoft has never learned to be realistic, leaving the customer to find out for themselves – Windows XP had a minimum of 64 MB, but was really sluggish for most until 256 MB was reached. With Vista, the Microsoft message was 1 GB, after originally being set at 512 MB, when those who were courageous and used it knew that 2 GB was really the minimum acceptable memory.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, writer for ComputerWorld, has noted that Windows 7 is a big step down in memory requirements from Vista, but no way will it work as well as Microsoft would imply with bare minimum specs of memory and processor.

In my Windows 7 testing, starting with Build 7000 to Build 7077, I’ve found that 7 requires at least a 1.6GHz processor and 2GBs of RAM to run at an acceptable level. Still, that’s not bad, and it’s certainly better than Vista. That said, there’s no way any desktop that can run Windows 7 can’t run Linux. Period. End of statement.

But to see the Microsoft assertions, from the Betanews article, you would never suspect that –

Microsoft: All netbooks will run any Windows 7

After a Wall Street Journal article this morning was treated elsewhere as a Microsoft announcement, it says again that netbooks and Win7 will be just fine.

There will very likely be some netbooks shipped in the US and other developed markets this year that will feature the Windows 7 Starter Edition SKU announced in February. But this version will have some limitations to it that go beyond the inability to display the Aero front-end using Windows Presentation Foundation — the direct implication of a statement made by a Microsoft spokesperson to Betanews this afternoon.

But that will not mean that premium editions of Win7 will not be able to run on netbooks, the spokesperson continued, but rather that OEMs may end up choosing to pre-install this limited edition on netbooks for sale.

“Any SKU of Windows 7 will be able to run on netbooks, which means that the hardware limitations of a netbook won’t affect the functionality of Windows 7 regardless of SKU,” the spokesperson told us. “With Windows 7, Microsoft is on track to have a smaller OS footprint, an improved user interface that should allow for faster boot-up and shut-down times, improved power management for enhanced battery life, enhanced media capabilities and increased reliability, stability and security.”

The Journal article suggested that one of the other limitations a Starter Edition user may be faced with is the ability to multitask only a limited number of applications simultaneously — a feature, we pointed out to Microsoft’s spokesperson, that would require a fairly sophisticated application of group policy and therefore, arguably, a more elaborate SKU of Windows than one that omits such a limitation altogether.

The spokesperson would not deny the existence of this or any other specific limitation for Starter Edition, but went on to say that this edition should not be perceived as “defeated” or encumbered (agreeing with our contention that it would need to be elaborate to effectuate the limitation) because it enables customers to choose systems that may be better suited to their needs. Last February, the company announced that Starter Edition would be available in developed markets through retail channels, although Windows 7 Home Basic — a version which will likely contain limited features — will only be available in developing markets.

“These engineering investments allow small notebook PCs to run any version of Windows 7, and allow customers complete flexibility to purchase a system which meets their needs,” the spokesperson told us. “Small notebook PCs can run any version of Windows 7. For OEMs that build lower-cost small notebook PCs, Windows 7 Starter will now be available in developed markets at a lower cost. For the most enhanced, full-functioning Windows experience on small notebook PCs, however, consumers will want to go with Windows 7 Home Premium, which lets you get the most out of your digital media and easily connect with other PCs.”

Do you see how Microsoft splits hairs here? It is a time honored tradition with that company. The company sets a target for memory and CPU, and surely as night follows day, sloppy coding gets in the way, and the memory, and possibly CPU horsepower gets moved far up the chart, in order to avoid user implosion after waiting for operations to complete.

Many netbooks will be able to be pumped up with more memory, and a faster CPU, but then that fine operation time will go away with the empty memory slots.

For many, it will become a choice between slow operation, using less than optimal memory and CPU power, and shorter operating times away from the power plug. Few will get the idea that the use of a Linux distribution, or Windows XP, will allow the best of both worlds – but, as I said, this will not occur to many – which is all part of the Microsoft plan.

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