Windows XP can be nicknamed as Microsoft's ageing workhorse. People were reluctant to shift to Windows Vista since it was a system resource hog that would crawl on slower machines. Last year when netbooks had picked up steam, manufacturers bundled Windows XP Home instead of their newer OS, because they knew Vista would be too much for these paltry-powered machines to handle.
In October 2009, Microsoft tried to set things right by launching Windows 7 - a revamped, near-perfect Operating system. Tech experts roared that it was what Windows Vista should have originally been. Microsoft had earlier released with "Starter" editions of XP and Vista. These versions were stripped of many features available in higher "Home Premium" or "Ultimate" versions. They even had a ridiculous limitation that did not let users open more than three applications at a time. Probably this is the reason why they did not do so well.
In order to show how optimized Windows 7 was for low-power devices, Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky showed the first working version of the OS running on a netbook. With just 1GB of RAM and ultra low-voltage Atom processors, it was a relief to see Windows 7 smoothly working on these devices. They also committed to replace XP Home edition with Windows 7 Starter edition on netbooks after its launch. Finally, the most ridiculous facet (the 3 application limit) has been removed in Windows 7 starter.
Netbooks coming to the market from now on will come either with Windows 7 Starter or XP Home pre-installed. Let's face it, XP's interface was becoming ancient and a fresh change is always welcome. So how advantageous is this upgrade to the end user? This is a first look at Windows 7 Starter; we look at what's good and bad about this version of the OS.
Here's what you will get if you opt for a netbook pre-installed with Windows 7 Starter over Windows XP Home Edition.
Windows 7's re-designed taskbar is a big improvement over XP and Vista too. All open applications appear as icons without the name, thus occupying less space than before. Gone is the 'Quick Launch' sub-section. Now you can 'Pin' applications and even files to the taskbar which will appear irrespective of whether the program is open or not. Multiple instances of the same application will be clubbed under a single icon by default. Right clicking the program icon also displays recently opened files with that program. Microsoft likes to call these 'Jump lists'. The 'Show desktop' button has been moved to the right corner. Lastly, the hidden notification icons are now clubbed and displayed in a better way.
The Start menu
The start menu is similar to the one found on Vista. A search bar at the bottom lets you instantly search for programs and files instead of opening a special 'Search' window in XP. It is also observed that Windows 7's search is better optimized at finding results more accurately and faster. Like the taskbar, you can 'pin' items to your Start Menu, so that they will show up every time you access it. Hovering over program also shows recently opened files in the pane next to it. This information is contextual - thus hovering over an internet browser shortcut will show 'Most visited' or 'Recently closed' websites.
Re-designed Wireless connectivity menu
To connect to a Wi-fi network is easier now - just clicking the wireless network icon on the taskbar brings up a list of available networks. Click on it to connect.
This feature is useful while working with two application windows at a time. All you need to do is drag one window to the corner of the screen and it automatically resizes to half the screen's width. Then drag the other at the other corner for a similar effect.
This is important for netbooks. Windows 7 Starter has advanced power profiling options as compared to XP. You can also tweak the profiles to a greater extent. One good power-saving feature is the automatic dimming of the display brightness when the machine's not in use. Finally, another great addition is the 'Sleep' mode. It takes the best out of XP's stand-by and hibernate modes. It consumes very little power under this mode and boots back almost instantaneously.
And now for some things about Windows 7 Starter that we did not like.
Cannot change wallpapers
This is probably the most ridiculous limitation we've seen in Windows 7 Starter. Thus, you're basically stuck with a blue-coloured one with a Windows logo at the center. Most people in the world like to customize their background to suit their taste. This just seems to be a ploy to get people to upgrade to higher versions of 7.
No Windows Aero
It is also disappointing to know that this feature has been removed from this edition. Aero in Windows 7 was just not all about eye-candy, it also added quite a few functional aspects. For example, hovering over the 'Show desktop' button would make all the open windows transparent, thus allowing you to take a quick 'Peek'. Also, you can view small thumbnails of minimized apps while hovering the mouse over their icon. Hovering on this thumbnail will actually show you a full-sized preview of the application while making all other windows transparent. All this is not possible in the Starter edition. Probably one reason why Microsoft would've chosen not to implement it is because it might be too taxing for a netbook's hardware to handle; especially while multi-tasking.
There's no denying that there are a lot more features that are missing in the Starter edition as compared to the versions above. But you have to realize one thing - Windows 7 Starter is meant to be installed in netbooks that are mainly used for day-to-day tasks like internet, office productivity and audio/video playback. This version will let you do all these tasks without a hitch. It is a big leap over Windows XP Home edition in terms of usability and ran fairly smooth on our test netbook. We believe Windows 7 Starter can finally send good old XP Home to its grave. We give it our thumbs up. Our only plea to Microsoft and netbook makers is to keep the pricing the same - please don't hike it in the name of the new operating system.