Microsoft's Windows 7 "Starter" Could Be A Brand Stopper - InformationWeek

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Commentary
4/20/2009
09:58 AM
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Microsoft's Windows 7 "Starter" Could Be A Brand Stopper

Microsoft is reportedly taking a version of its XP OS intended for entry-level PCs, and repurposing its post-Vista incarnation to run netbooks. Its name and functionality do little good for the company's brand.

Microsoft is reportedly taking a version of its XP OS intended for entry-level PCs, and repurposing its post-Vista incarnation to run netbooks. Its name and functionality do little good for the company's brand.Called "Starter," the OS will run only three apps at a time, and won't look as glitzy as Windows 7 (coming out this fall). A TBD upgrade scheme will be available, thereby keeping the initial cost of Starter low enough to get loaded onto cheap netbooks. This is intended to get Microsoft into that growth category without paying for it with profit margin.

Here's the rub, though: I don't think anybody wants to buy a "starter" anything. It sounds like a trial version, or sample, and not something that a user might rely upon for running a computer. I'm sure Microsoft focus group tested the name ad nauseam, but I say it says this branded product is somehow incomplete.

It also says that Microsoft is focused on selling stuff, versus necessarily satisfying needs. And it begs the bigger questions around Windows 7, which come straight out of the cloud that hovered low over the introduction of Vista: who needs this stuff?

We all understand why Microsoft needs it, as OS accounts for the lion's share of its profits, so it rolls out a new version every so often, in deference to the tried-and-true technology model of "new = better." Actually, the tech world simply imported this ruse from the consumer products folks, who've traditionally given us "better" toothpaste and dishwashing detergents with great regularity (and little real improvement). The presumption is that consumers are basically dumb, and that they'll buy the image of brand benefit without ever checking to see if it actually does anything.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, I think people figure this out really fast when it comes to computers.

So why not throw away the obvious marketing image and up-sell nonsense, and call Starter something like "Core" or "Complete?" Microsoft could tell the world why it's not a stripped-down, need-to-upgrade sales tactic, and instead the best, fastest, smartest, and most reliable OS for netbook computing. It could do whatever it takes creatively to satisfy its netbook consumers completely.

Then it could separately specify all the other relevant, useful, and needed things that consumers could do if they got the new" Desktop" (or "Fred" version, or whatever), and offer it for different uses, and not because it filled gaps in the Starter product.

I guess I still don't understand why the world needs a new OS from Microsoft, so calling an iteration of it "Starter" seems like it says negative things about the company's brand...though perhaps accurately so?

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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