The Wall Street Journal yesterday reported that Microsoft will offer a limited version of Windows 7 to netbook manufacturers.

The limited version of Windows 7 will be called Starter.

Starter, which should run better on netbooks than its predecessor, Windows Vista, will limit netbook users to running only three programs at a time unless they pay a fee to upgrade to the full version of Windows 7.

The move is seen as an attempt to offset the fact that Microsoft can’t charge computer makers as much for an OS used on netbooks as it does on more robust desktop PCs and laptops.

Although the Journal article didn’t state specific prices, it did cite anonymous sources that put Microsoft’s average take on a netbook OS at around $10 to $15, whereas the company brings in around $50 to $60 on an OS for a standard laptop or desktop unit.

The news is significant for Microsoft in that laptop sales have been dropping and are predicted to continue that decline in 2009.

In March, Gartner predicted an 11.9 percent decline in PC sales in 2009 and an 80 percent increase in netbook sales.

To be sure, netbooks have identified a new and growing market. The hybrid devices –  some say part computer and part smartphone – are getting cheaper, more powerful and meeting a recession-mired demographic that wants cheap, portable connectivity.

Analysts are currently mulling the wisdom of Verizon and AT&T’s plans to subsidize netbooks in conjunction with a two-year data plan.

AT&T’s current pricing model puts that two-year contract at right around $40 per month for 24 months. The data plan would be a $1,000 investment over two years on what is essentially a $300 machine. 

More FirstNews 04/21/09:
•  T-Mobile Parent Lowers Expectations
•  Earnings Preview: AT&T to Report 1Q Results
•  LG Reports Quarterly Loss of $147M
•  Microsoft Offers Limited Version of Windows 7
•  Broadcom Offers to Buy Emulex for $764M
•  Mixed Feelings About Sun Setting in Silicon Valley
•  FirstNews Briefs for April 21, 2009