In a vote of confidence for Windows 7's suitability for use on netbook PCs, Hewlett-Packard says it likely will offer at least three different editions of the upcoming operating system on future models of its Mini netbooks.
That includes the Professional and Home Premium editions, which Microsoft last week said will be the two primary versions of Windows 7, and the low-end Starter edition, which will limit users to running three applications at a time.
Kyle Thornton, category manager for business notebook PCs at HP, said in an interview late last week that the vendor also has been testing the beta version of Windows 7 Ultimate - an edition aimed at gamers and PC enthusiasts - on the Mini netbook line.
Windows 7 is being built on the same code base as Windows Vista, prompting some fears that the new operating system may prove to be too bulky to run well on modestly powered netbooks. But despite such concerns, "we see it running very well on the [Minis], even with Aero turned on," Thornton said, referring to the compute-intensive graphical user interface offered in both Vista and Windows 7.
While Microsoft will focus its marketing of Windows 7 on the Professional edition for corporate users and Home Premium for consumers, it will continue to offer a total of six flavors - the same as with Vista. That, the company said, is necessary to meet the needs of PC makers as well as users.
As part of last week's announcement, Microsoft confirmed that there will be no special "netbook SKU" of Windows 7. Instead, PC makers will be allowed to install the Starter edition, formerly consigned to developing countries only, on netbooks and other low-end PCs for sale in markets worldwide. Microsoft officials expect, though, that the majority of netbooks will actually ship with Windows 7 Home Premium.
HP is even more ambitious. Besides the three editions of Windows 7 that it plans to support, the vendor hopes that it will be able to continue to pre-install both Windows XP Professional and Vista Business on its business-oriented netbooks even after the new operating system ships, Thornton said. (Vista Business is the product-line equivalent of the planned Windows 7 Professional edition.)
In the Mini 2140 system that it introduced last month, HP offers three operating systems for business users: XP Pro, Vista Business and Novell Inc.'s SUSE Enterprise Linux. No other netbook maker "supports business operating systems because, frankly, they are not being supported by Intel or Microsoft at all," Thornton claimed. "We went out on a limb to put XP Pro and Vista Business on the 2140 and make sure it runs fine."
HP is the largest notebook PC vendor worldwide on an overall basis. But in the netbook category, it's a distant third behind the top two vendors, Acer and Asus, according to market-research figures released in December by DisplaySearch.