When I wrote a few weeks ago about Microsoft’s cool new battery technology, I was thinking that the beast from Redmond had headed down a new road. They’re actually giving the technology away under some circumstances, and mundane as it sounds, real changes to the way batteries work are REAL change.

But then I came across a business change at Microsoft that convinced me of something ugly I mentioned last month. Microsoft Is Becoming Irrelevant.

Yesterday, I started using a new portable computer. It’s one of those Netbooks that weighs almost nothing and gives me a whole day’s battery so that when I’m out I can work on a screen and keyboard that are easier to handle than those on my Droid SmartPhone.

Like most netbooks it comes with Windows 7, which while frustrating to an old computer geek like me is actually a pretty good upgrade to the venerable operating system. And the fact that it’s Windows 7 Starter Edition is fine; this little computer would be overwhelmed trying to do some of the things that the higher-end versions of Windows 7 can do.

And in playing with this little toy I realized that something we’ve all come to take for granted isn’t possible in Windows 7 Starter Edition. If you use Windows 7 Starter Edition, you can’t change your desktop wallpaper.

Let’s start by being clear: this isn’t really important, right?  And forget libertarian posturing like  “I have the right…!”  You don’t.

But here’s the thing that matters: Microsoft didn’t fail to include the ability to change wallpapers in Windows 7 Starter Edition; you can download third-party software that makes it possible. What they’ve done is block a simple feature that the whole world has come to understand, making it a component of a much more complex upgrade that wouldn’t work very well on most of the computers that come with Windows 7 Starter Edition. And suggest you buy that upgrade.

And even that isn’t it.

When I was looking into this issue I came across this page. And I checked: the license for Windows 7 Starter Edition specifically forbids you from changing your desktop wallpaper. Check the link if you like, or if you have a computer running Windows 7 Starter Edition you can see the wording in paragraph 8 of the file C:WindowsSystem32license.rtf.

Business Change takes many forms. I begrudge Microsoft not one cent of any revenues they can generate. But suggesting that people perform an ill-advised software upgrade and going out of their way to point out that something as simple as changing your desktop wallpaper is illegal? Wow.

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