I originally wrote this post about six months ago and never published it. Given the current discussion about different editions of Windows Vista, and especially the contention from Robert McLaws that Microsoft still hasn’t decided on the product mix for Windows Vista, I thought it made sense to update it.
The Internet has a big problem: People continue to use old, insecure versions of Windows. I can’t find any up-to-date statistics, but my WAG is that between 10 and 20% of people on the Internet today are running operating systems from the Windows 9X family. These old computers are less reliable and far less secure than they would be if they were running Windows XP, and they aren’t able to install many modern programs.
Why don’t these people upgrade? Because upgrading is expensive. The upgrade package is $90-100 if you’re a good shopper. A new PC is going to run between $400 and $500. That’s a lot of money for people who are on a fixed income or who are struggling to make ends meet.
Microsoft already has a solution: Windows XP Starter Edition. It was designed for use in emerging markets where the average annual income can’t justify the cost of a full Windows XP license. First released in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, it soon spread to Russia, India, and Brazil, and it’s now available in 22 countries and in six languages. (There are some interesting details in this article from Microsoft Watch and a very Microsoft-friendly profile, with screen shots, at Paul Thurrott’s site.)
Well, we have plenty of people in this country who can’t afford the cost of a new PC or an expensive upgrade. But they might pay $30, especially if they got some bonuses kicked in with the deal, like a six-month subscription to Microsoft’s OneCare security software, or a limited version of MSN.
Would Starter Edition cannibalize sales of existing Windows versions? I don’t think so. The operating system has some serious limitations that would rule out its use by any computer enthusiast:
- Only three programs run at a time. (Hey… You can’t reliably run more than a handful of programs on Windows 9X anyway.)
- The display runs only at 800 X 600 resolution. Most people who are stuck with old hardware and an old version of Windows are probably running at this resolution anyway.
- No home networking or multiple user accounts.
- Settings are preconfigured for novices.
But think of the serious advantages. Upgraders would have all the security fixes of Service Pack 2. They’d be able to run IE7 when it’s available later this year. They could run Windows AntiSpyware. They’d have an easier time with digital cameras and portable music players.
So why not make Windows XP Starter Edition (and the Windows Vista equivalent, when its time comes) available here? Sell it for $29.99. Make it available only as an upgrade to Windows 98 or Windows Me. Maybe the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation could set up a program with clinics in low-income neighborhoods that could offer upgrade services or low-cost, Starter Edition-powered computers for families with school-age kids and seniors.
I suggested this back in January, but the more I think about the idea, the more I like it. Windows 98 and Windows Me are long overdue for retirement, and a move like this would help make the Internet a better, safer place.