/ Technology

Ask Which? – Windows 7 Starter won’t work on my netbook

Angry netbook user

Mike asked: Some time ago I bought a netbook. I was told it ran Windows 7. I asked about compatibility as I use Microsoft 1997-2003 and was assured by the assistant at Curry’s that there was no problem.

Imagine my amazement and anger when I found that Windows 7 Starter does not support older versions of Office and that my netbook does not support compatibility mode on Windows 7.

Since then I have found other programs, like Photoshop Elements 2, do not run, as well as a host of programs written using older versions of Visual Basic. Is there any solution?

Which? Computing helpdesk supervisor, John Bogue, responds:

What a frustrating situation for you. I’m assuming you mean that you use MS Office 1997 and MS Office 2003. All MS Office versions up to the year 2000 are not supported by Microsoft in any case irrespective of the operating system, be it Windows XP or Windows 7.

The other issue you have is that you are not going to be able to run anything other than the starter version of Windows 7 because netbooks are not powerful enough.

The Microsoft marketing people (in their wisdom) decided to call the very basic version of Windows 7 on netbooks ‘starter’ instead of ‘basic’.

To complicate things further, even if you had a laptop with Windows 7 ‘Premium’ (which is still pretty basic), you would not have the ability to run older programs using their bolt on of ‘XP mode’. This is a bit cheeky as I expect this has been set up like this to sell more netbooks and laptops with Windows 7 by keeping the cost down with a trimmed-down operating system.

As you pointed out, to be able to run ‘XP mode’ you will need to upgrade to a laptop with the ‘Professional’ version of Windows 7 or the ‘Ultimate’ version of Windows 7.

Your other option – and probably the best one in your case – would be to purchase MS Office 2010 Home & Student which would run on your netbook and will give you access to your old documents from Office 1997 and 2003 versions. This is likely to be the most cost effective solution.

Have you been sold a computer only to find out it doesn’t run on your chosen operating system? Would you have made a different purchase if you’d known?


There has been strong support for netbooks on one or two Which? Conversations, but I have heard of many problems due to the low specification of these machines. John Bogue suggests some workarounds but anyone who has little expertise would be better to pay more and buy a better computer.

A MacBook Air does not come with an optical drive, but external drives are available. It’s simple to make a disk copy using an external drive and that means that the battery in a laptop will last longer. One external drive can be used with several computers and that’s what many individuals and families have nowadays.

It makes sense to eliminate optical drives from laptops first because weight, size and battery life are important considerations.

For word processing, spreadsheet, email and cruising the ‘net consider Linux (e.g. Ubuntu 10.10). With OpenOffice it has all you need as long as your Netbook is capable. If you want to try it out and your netbook supports “boot from USB” then you can load Ubuntu on a memory stick and dry-run.

Stick with Ubuntu 10.10 – the changed desktop with Ubuntu 11 is atrocious. Feel free to try other Linux distributions as well – Ubuntu is just my favourite.