Windows 7 Starter Edition will limit users to running three different applications at a time, limit display resolutions and lack a few features, like Aero Glass. Starter Edition will only be available on new computers, not directly to consumers. I think that's a mistake.
If Microsoft made Starter Edition available free or at a very low price, maybe $10, they'd have me hooked, and I think they'd grab quite a few other people as well. Oh, there's no way I'd be able to handle Starter Edition's limitations on my work desktop, or home desktop, or any portable computer I use regularly. But a very inexpensive, mostly functional, and totally legal Windows OS has a lot of potential. Here's what I'd use Starter Edition for:
- A virtual machine OS: Hyper-V and Virtual PC are free and VMWare is getting in on the free virtualization act, but I won't be virtualizing anything at home any time soon. If you want to run a legitimate system, you have to use licensed guest OSs, and that costs real money. A free but limited Windows OS would give users a chance to virtualize without buying new licenses.
- A netbook OS: We'll probably see Starter Edition as the included OS for some low-end netbooks, but I'm not sure that's a good idea—people will get home with a new computer and find artificial limitations in place. If, however, Starter Edition becomes a very-low-cost consumer option, it could be a way to get Windows 7 onto any computer, no matter how inexpensive. Say your netbook comes with a Linux OS or Windows XP—if you could try Starter Edition on it free, there's a chance you might decide Windows 7 is what you want, and pay Microsoft to upgrade it to a full-featured Windows 7.
- A recovery option: Some new computers sold to consumers don't come with full Windows installation disks. Instead, they have “recovery discs” that usually restore the computer's entire hard drive to factory condition, leading to data loss. If you were free to install Starter Edition on any system you like, you could install it on a system that won't boot, recover any data you need to external media, then use the recovery disc.