Windows 8 Is Trying To Kill The Netbook

Windows 8 Is Trying To Kill The Netbook

Whatever Windows 8’s virtues on a touchscreen device or a 17-inch notebook, there’s one clear lesson from the newly-released consumer preview version: there is no point in trying to run it on most of the netbooks on the market. And unless Microsoft outlines some plans to fix that pretty quickly, it is effectively conceding the netbook market to Linux or to oblivion.

Like most geeks worldwide, almost the first thing I did when I got up this morning was to download the Consumer Preview version and check it out. I didn’t want it on my main work machine — my days are too busy to spend time on unexpected bugs — so I was using a spare Eee PC netbook we had sitting around the office. Like most netbooks, this only has a 10.1 inch display, and its maximum display resolution is 1200 by 600 — less than the 1200 by 768 minimum you need to run the Metro apps which are at the heart of Windows 8.

There’s no bait-and-switch here. Microsoft makes this limitation abundantly clear, pointing out the fact in every blog post on the subject it has written in the last few days and popping up a warning when you try to install on a machine which doesn’t have that resolution. You can install Windows 8, but you can’t use Metro. And in practice, that means you can’t use the new app store, or most of the enhanced features. You can’t in fact launch Internet Explorer from the Start screen:

Windows 8 Is Trying To Kill The Netbook

For crying out loud, you can’t even run Solitaire:

Windows 8 Is Trying To Kill The Netbook

By the time you have unpinned every app that doesn’t run from the Start screen, you end up with the slightly sorry looking prospect you can see at the top of this post. This is not a screen I would want to spend much time interacting with, but in the menu-free world of Windows 8, I won’t have much choice.

For my existing productivity netbook — the Windows 7 beat which I take on the road — the solution is clear and obvious: I won’t bother upgrading. While there might be performance benefits from Windows 8’s improved codebase, there’s not much point if half the features that are added don’t work.

And before anyone says “just get a machine with a decent-sized screen”, not all of us want that. The existing netbook size is great for travelling, and works especially well on planes. Newer netbook models may come with denser displays and avoid the problem, but it’s a pity all those existing machines Microsoft worked so hard to bring into the Windows world are suddenly cast away from it again.

I also don’t buy into the “netbooks are irrelevant now that tablets exist” argument. Tablets are undeniably hugely popular, but they solve a different problem. If you want to deal with a lot of text, or manipulate a spreadsheet, or sort files in Dropbox, a netbook is a much better solution. It shouldn’t have to be an either/or decision; both are great for specific needs.

The best I can hope for long term is that Microsoft decides to issue a ‘Starter edition’ of Windows 8, specifically designed for lower-spec netbooks, and perhaps with no Metro features at all — just the basic code and performance improvements and the other changes that Windows 8 brings. That would be in keeping with its past behaviour. On the other hand, it would be condemning netbook users to not use most of the features Microsoft believes are the best things about Windows 8. So I’ll believe it when I see it.


  • try this;

    This only works on Windows 7 equipped netbooks.

    Here’s what you have to do:

    >REMEMBER< Be careful with REGEDIT!! I take no responsibility.

    1) Run regedit
    2) Search and modify all values “Display1_DownScalingSupported” from “0″ to “1″
    3) Restart the system
    4) Enjoy the two new resolutions: 1024×768 px and 1152×864 px

    Be aware that these tweaks might not work on all netbooks

  • I installed the original Dev on my little eMachine and it runs like a top! I’m putting the new one on my PC so maybe there’s a difference between them or maybe I’m just lucky that my netbook has the correct res?

  • Microsoft won’t miss out on the netbook market. They’ll just release a new version of Windows 8 called Windows 8 Basic, with a signfiicantly crippled feature set, and basically bribe manufacturers to put that on thier machines instead of pre-installing LInux, denying them access to preferential pricing on Windows 8 full for higher spec’d machines if they don’t.

  • At the moment, this is a matter of ‘windows 8 wont run on most existing netbooks’. Iif this limitation is set in stone, most netbook manufacturers will start using slightly-higher-res LCD panels. For the models to be released simultaneously with windows 8, they’ll already be fairly far along in development. If there is a basic version, you can guarantee it’ll have metro stripped out the same way win7 basic stripped out aero.

    That doesn’t really help anybody with an existing netbook, but it’ll be great for people who don’t mind an older OS (or linux) – When win8 models are released, you’ll start to pick up older stock at pretty steep discounts.

  • To be honest the netbook market needs to be killed. I simply can’t understand why people like them and think they are great to use on the road. They are:
    1. Underpowered
    2. Unupgradable
    3. Tiny
    4. Hard to read.

    If you MUST have a light pc sImply buy an ultrabook. Don’t blame MS just because their beautiful new OS doesn’t work on your choice of machine. It’s about time the minimum res got bumped up any way. 1024×800 has been dead to me for the last 10 years

    • Yes because ultrabooks have been around for a number of years like netbooks?

      Netbooks are cheap and serve their purpose very well.
      Where they come unstuck is morons thinking they are as powerful and to be used like a normal laptop.

    • Netbooks aren’t just about weight. We’ve got ours because they’re small enough to fit into handbags and other small bags. They’re also cheap. Ultrabooks might be lightweight but their screens make them too bulky no mater how thin they become. They’re also too expensive.

      I’m sure they have a place, but there’s definitely a place in this world for cheap, highly portable computers.

    • This comment is the definition of closed-minded.

      “If I don’t like it, no one should! It’s dumb!”

      Find me an ultrabook for less than $500 that has 5+ hour battery life in a 10″ package. You’re not going to find one. In fact, probably the closest you’ll find the 11″ Macbook Air, and I’m not about to drop $1K because Windows doesn’t like my netbook. If I did, I’d probably learn OSX anyway.

      On top of that, I’m really not liking Windows 8 so far. It’s like there are two different operating systems and navigating between the two is as far from cohesive as possible. Anything that you could do in Windows 7 you now have to navigate away from the desktop and go through the ugly new start menu that has so few options for customization that I’d prefer it not even be there.

      • I bought a hp dm1 from the us (aus version is older), its got a 11.6″, battery last 6hr+, runs good.
        Cost $520 shipped (thats with 2 additional options, a cpu and different colour) so without them you can get it under 500 if it wasnt for the different colour.

  • It’s definitely a shame, given the similarities to Windows 7’s codebase and Microsoft’s tradition of supporting older hardware. Here’s hoping that Windows 7 will be largely compatible with most Windows 8 software and that MS will continue to offer a basic flavour of 7 for netbooks. Ubuntu is an option for those who know of it. Options for future netbooks are Arm processors (assuming the Arm version of Win8 will work without a touch screen) or up the screen resolution.

  • I am using Ubuntu 10.04 LTS on my netbook, hate the UI of the new ubuntu which means I will never move to WIN8 Metro. I still keep Win7 installed just “in-case” and for remote desktop to work.

    • rdesktop is your friend. It’s a quick and useful tool that lets you use remote desktop from any windows machine.

      The only downside is tries to run an 800×600 session by default. You’ll can force it to run fullscreen with the -f option.

  • MS won’t make any reduced resolution windows 8. The 768pix. height is required by th metro gui, if you disabled the requirement, many apps would probably have rendering issues.

    What can happen:

    Windows 8 starter will be available for OEMs for 1366×768 display machines (it seems that for windows 7, this cost-reduced license is only usable for 1024×600 and smaller screen machines). Accordingly, new netbooks will come with higher res screens, compatible with win 8 (MS forcing this is actually good in long term)…

    Old models/new ones with 1024×600 screens continue to be sold with Windows 7. Not that surprising, look how long were netbooks selling with Windows XP. I don’t think that is a huge problem.

    I don’t think many people go upgrading all their PCs to newest windows like this anyway, especally if it costs money (I guess that many people wining about this have free access to the updates, either through academic programs, or piracy?).

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