Thursday, March 18, 2010

Is Windows 7 Starter Edition a Non-Starter - or Just Right for Netbooks?

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Vol. 2, # 11 - Mar 18, 2010 - Issue # 27 
 Is Windows 7 Starter Edition a Non-Starter - or Just Right for Netbooks?

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Is Windows 7 Starter Edition a Non-Starter - or Just Right for Netbooks?
    • Follow-up
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • IE 9 public preview
    • Set Windows to use a different time server
    • Windows 7 SP1 may be out ahead of schedule
    • Another Facebook scam to be aware of
    • Too much video?
  4. How to: Using the New Windows 7 Features
    • How to switch your Windows 7 display to a projector
  5. Windows 7 and Vista Security
    • Security vulnerability in Virtual PC
  6. Question Corner
    • How can I "fix" Windows 7 N?
  7. Windows 7 Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • Changing the settings in Windows DVD Maker
    • Transfer handwriting personalization to another Tablet PC
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • Cucusoft iPhone Ringtone Maker: Easily Create iPhone Ringtones from Audio and Video Files

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Editor's Corner

Is Windows 7 Starter Edition a Non-Starter - or Just Right for Netbooks?

Netbooks aren't quite the "selling like hotcakes" phenomenon that they were a year ago; according to some reports, sales are leveling off. After an increase of 137 percent in North America from 2008 to 2009, the sales numbers are expected to remain steady in 2010:

Some believe the iPad and its inevitable competitors in the tablet space will edge out the netbook market, but the little guys with correspondingly small price tags are still very popular - especially among students, frequent travelers and as second or third systems for those who love tech gadgets. And they're getting more functional all the time, thanks in part to the operating system.

The first netbooks ran various incarnations of Linux, usually a somewhat locked down version with a very simplistic GUI. It was fine for kids, but those who were used to working with Windows on their desktops found it pretty limiting. The next wave of netbooks ran Windows XP, and that's when sales really took off. Folks were able to have their same familiar interface and do the same things they did on their more powerful computers - within the limitations of the netbook hardware.

When Windows 7 was released, Microsoft was ready with an edition made just for netbooks: Windows 7 Starter Edition. There were Starter editions of XP and Vista, too, but they were only available in "emerging markets," i.e. not in first world countries. Windows 7 Starter can be sold all over the world, but you can't buy the OS itself at retail; it comes only preinstalled on small notebook PCs (netbooks). This is similar to the way Windows XP Media Center and Tablet editions were sold.

Not all small notebooks come with Starter edition. Higher end ones, such as the Dell Inspiron 11 and the Asus Eee PC Seashell come with Windows 7 Home Premium, but you'll find that most of those $299 netbooks are running Starter edition. That's one of the ways they keep the price down - OEMs pay less for Starter than for Home Premium, of course. So what's the difference? Is it worth it to pay extra for Home Premium, or is Starter all that a netbook needs? Let's take a look at what differentiates Starter from its "big brothers."

First, there's one limitation you might have heard about that is no longer an issue. In beta, Starter was limited to running three applications at a time. There was a huge hue and cry about this from beta testers, although the limitation was not quite as onerous as some people assumed. You were able to open as many windows as you wanted from a single program, so that for example, you could have several Word docs open, or multiple tabs open in IE, and the application still only counts as one. Also, the three-app limit didn't apply to things like Windows Explorer, Task Manager and most Control Panel applets, nor to desktop gadgets and anti-virus programs that run as a service. But it's all a moot point, anyway - because prior to final release, Microsoft listened to customers and lifted the three-app limit. Now Starter will run as many programs as the computer's system resources will handle.

There are, however, still some limitations that you might not like if you're used to the full functionality of Windows 7. For example, Aero Glass is missing. Whereas not having transparent window borders may not be any big deal, this also means you don't get Aero-dependent features such as taskbar thumbnail previews and you can't use Aero Peek to quickly view your desktop.

Something else that's gone is the ability to personalize your desktop. You can't change the wallpaper, window colors or sound schemes. Although it's only an aesthetic issue, many people are very bothered by not being able to customize their working spaces to fit their preferences and reflect their personalities.

Then there are the more serious omissions that actually affect functionality. You can't use fast user switching; you have to log off to switch between different users. You can't play back DVDs, either - of course, netbooks generally don't come with built-in DVD drives anyway, but that's a huge drawback for some folks who might want to plug in an external player and use their netbooks as entertainment devices when they're on the road. Starter also doesn't include multi-monitor support, and it doesn't have Windows Media Center or remote media streaming. Of course, it also doesn't have those Windows 7 Pro and above features that are also missing from Home Premium, such as XP Mode and the ability to join a domain.

Are these limitations you can live with? Remember that we're talking about a computer that probably costs only $300 or so - you can't expect it to do everything your $1000 desktop does. And even if the OS supported some of those features, the low-powered processor and small amount of memory would probably render them unusable or frustrating to use anyway.

But there are ways around some of the limitations. For example, there are third party programs you can use to change the background wallpaper in Starter edition. Stardock My Colors is one option; you can read the instructions for using it with Starter here:

Here is another wallpaper changer called StarterBackgroundChanger that's free, but the instructions are in French (the interface is in English):

And at least some of the Eee PCs come with something called Eee Tools that lets you change the wallpaper.

As for the multiple monitor restriction, it's important to note that you can connect an external monitor to your Windows 7 Starter netbook (if the netbook has a video-out port) and display your desktop on it, as a mirror image of the netbook's internal display, so this doesn't prevent you from doing PowerPoint presentations and such. What you can't do is extend the desktop across the two monitors to gain additional desktop real estate.

Finally, I haven't done this but according to reports from others, you can plug in an external DVD player and watch commercial DVDs, but you can't watch them on Windows Media Player. Instead, you'll have to install third party software such as VLC Media Player. It's a free download at

If, even with the workarounds, you find that Starter edition is still too limited for you, you can upgrade to Windows Home Premium or even Professional or Ultimate. With Windows Anytime Upgrade, you can go from Starter edition to Home Premium for $79.99 (you can get discounts at retailers like NewEgg, which charges $75.99 for the upgrade). However, you may find that the higher end editions run more slowly on the low-powered hardware than Starter does and the video card still might not run Aero and Media Center may be sluggish. You may be able to pep up your netbook by upgrading the RAM, if it allows for that. The difference between the 1 GB of RAM that comes in most netbooks and 2 GB can be significant. Here's an article that shows you other steps you can take to optimize Ultimate for a netbook:

Of course, the problem is that after you disable all these services and features, you're back to a stripped-down OS that's a lot like ... Starter edition.

What do you think? Is all the hoopla about Starter edition's limitations overblown? Do you really want or need Home Premium or Ultimate on a netbook? Have you used a system running Starter edition? Which of its restrictions, if any, did you find the most difficult to live with? Was it enough to cause you to upgrade? If you upgraded, did you have to upgrade your RAM, too? Did you find yourself wishing you had paid a little more to just buy a more powerful notebook that came with a different edition of Windows 7 in the first place? We invite you to discuss this topic in our forums at


In last week's editorial, I talked about the high-end edition of Windows 7: Ultimate - and whether it's worth the extra cost. Readers chimed in with their opinions, which ranged all over the board. A couple of readers did mention an Ultimate feature that I left out: the ability to install language packs in Ultimate so you can easily change the language in which the menus, help files, etc. display.

Another reader brought up a reason for upgrading from Vista to Windows 7 Home Premium: the 3-license "family pack" (which has since been discontinued). That was a great deal for multi-computer homes, as it allowed you to upgrade three systems to Windows 7 Home Premium for just $149. Unfortunately, there was no such program for the Pro and Ultimate editions.

Others pointed out that you don't have as much choice in choosing your edition if you already have Vista installed and don't want to do a clean installation. For example, if you have Vista Ultimate, you can do an in-place upgrade only if you upgrade to Windows 7 Ultimate (although you can still get the upgrade price for a lower edition).

And some of you noted that you can get the remote desktop functionality in the lower editions by using Live Mesh. Good point! And one small correction for Tim: in Windows 7, Professional edition does have Windows Media Center. However, administrators can disable it through Group Policy if they don't want it to be available on company systems.

As always, thanks to all of you who participated in this discussion!

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

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Quotes of the Week

"Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant." - Mitchell Kapor

"We've arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology." - Carl Sagan

"Why is it drug addicts and computer aficionados are both called users?" - Clifford Stoll

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Cool Tools


Do you have programs you just can't seem to get rid of? Uninstaller! 2010 "ALL New" Version Just Released:

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Ultra Edit New Version 15.2 - Replacing Notepad or Looking for The Most Powerful Text Editor?

News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

IE 9 public preview

Internet Explorer 8 brought many changes to Microsoft's web browser, and has been hailed for its much better security and usability. Is it going to be a tough act to follow? What can Microsoft add to make it even better? The company provided a sneak peek at the next generation, IE 9, at the MIX10 developer's conference this week. It's still far from finished, but Microsoft has created a "test drive" web site that shows off some of the new features and improvements, including support for things like text size animation, faster rendering of map zooming by using the GPU instead of the CPU, and HTML5 graphics that don't work in IE 8. If you're brave enough, you can install the preview from this page:

Set Windows to use a different time server

Many people have noticed that the default time server used by Windows to synchronize its clock doesn't work all that well. But you don't have to use that one; you can set the OS to use a different server - one that's less overloaded. Rick Broida shows you how and suggests a better time server in this article:

Windows 7 SP1 may be out ahead of schedule

The latest rumor this week is that we may be seeing service pack 1 for Windows 7 earlier than we previously expected. Originally, it wasn't expected to be released until 2011, but now some say it will be here by the end of the year. This article speculates about the reasons for that, but I'd guess the most likely reason (if it's true) is to encourage upgrading among all those folks who have a hard and fast rule of never going to a new OS until the first service pack is out.

Another Facebook scam to be aware of

If you use Facebook, you may have seen notifications that some of your friends are using an application for finding out who has viewed their profiles, and inviting you to do the same. Unfortunately, the whole thing is a scam. It doesn't show you who's been viewing your profile; it just takes you to another app - which earns the scammer advertising revenue. At least it does appear to put you at risk, other than the risk of being duped. But always remember to exercise caution when allowing the Facebook apps to access your information; they are not created by Facebook itself but by third party developers, some of whom may not have the best of intentions. Read more about this one here:

Too much video?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I guess a moving picture is worth a thousand still ones - but sometimes I would prefer to read text or look at photos instead of watching a video. How about you? Read my blog post about why I think the web is becoming too video-centric at

How to: Using the New Windows 7 Features

How to switch your Windows 7 display to a projector

On numerous occasions, I've watched presenters struggle to get their laptops to display with a projector after attaching the cables. Windows 7 makes it easy. Here's how:
  1. After attaching the video-out (VGA) port of your laptop to the projector's cable, press the Windows Logo key + P.
  2. You'll see a pop-up box with four choices. The first is Computer Only, which is not what you want. You also probably don't want to Extend the Desktop. That leaves two choices. You can select to Duplicate the laptop display to the projector, so that you see the same screen on both (my preference) or you can select Projector Only, so that your desktop is displayed only on the projector screen.
This solution is quick, easy and elegant - far better than having to search for the correct key combination (which varied depending on the hardware) with XP and Vista.

Windows 7 and Vista Security

Security vulnerability in Virtual PC

Security researchers reported this week that they have discovered a zero-day vulnerability in the Virtual PC software that powers XP Mode in Windows 7. Attackers could exploit the vulnerability to bypass Windows 7 security features and run malicious code on your machine. This affects not just Windows Virtual PC (the latest version, which comes with the XP Mode download for Windows 7 Pro and above) but also Microsoft Virtual PC 2007. Microsoft's enterprise-level virtualization solution, Hyper-V, is not affected. You can read more here:

Question Corner

How can I "fix" Windows 7 N?

I bought a computer in Europe that has the "N" edition of Windows 7 Home Premium installed. I can't find out my Windows Experience Index (WEI) score because apparently that feature doesn't work on the N edition. Is there a way to fix this? Thanks! - Jim L.

Windows 7 N was created in response to the European Commission's requirement that Microsoft offer a version of Windows that did not come bundled with a media player. There are N versions of all Windows 7 editions. The problem is that WEI uses some of the components of Windows Media Player, thus it's not functional on the N editions. You can add WMP back to any of the Windows 7 N operating systems (which will also fix the problem with WEI) by downloading and installing the Media Feature Pack for Windows 7 N and Windows 7 KN, which you can find at

Windows 7 Configuration and Troubleshooting

Changing the settings in Windows DVD Maker

Windows 7 (all editions except Starter) include the Windows DVD Maker for creating DVDs. You can configure the settings to fit your needs, including how the DVD menu displays, whether to play the video automatically when you insert the disc, the DVD aspect ratio, video format, burner speed, and more. To find out how to configure these settings, see the Microsoft Windows 7 web site at

Transfer handwriting personalization to another Tablet PC

If you're using a Tablet PC and you buy a new one, you might want to transfer your handwriting personalization information to the new system. Luckily, that information is stored in your user profile and you can transfer it to the new computer by using the Windows Easy Transfer feature in Windows 7. Find out how here:

Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: VistaNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

Product of the Week

Cucusoft iPhone Ringtone Maker: Easily Create iPhone Ringtones from Audio and Video Files

Cucusoft iPhone Ringtone Maker is an easy-to-use tool that can help you trim or clip audio from your favorite audio or video files, then convert it to iPhone Ringtone format. With this program, you can make your own iPhone ringtone from any music you love. The supported input source file formats include .mp3, .m4a, wav, .wma, .avi, .flv (YouTube format), .mp4 (iPod video format), .wmv, MPEG, H.264/AVC, AVCHD, .mkv, .rm, .ra, .mov, DivX, XviD, 3GP, etc. Win7News readers can download the free evaluation here.

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