Will Windows 7 Come On Flash Drives?

A new rumor has surfaced that suggests Microsoft is considering a third method for distributing copies of Windows 7: USB flash drives. We already know Microsoft plans to offer a retail version as well as a downloadable version of Windows 7, but these two options present some challenges for users with netbooks that lack DVD drives who want to upgrade to Windows 7. According to an undisclosed source, CNET claims "Microsoft is considering offering Windows 7 on a thumb drive to allow netbook owners to more easily upgrade their machines."

A USB drive with a copy of the new OS would solve these upgrade challenges. In addition, because installation from a USB drive is faster than from DVD, there’s a good chance many other users could also be interested in a USB distribution method. The downside for Microsoft is that USB drives are still more expensive than DVDs to mass manufacture.

Of course, Microsoft won’t confirm the rumors, but company executives have acknowledged that upgrading netbooks poses a challenge and have said the company is exploring ways to make that process easier. Even if Microsoft doesn’t offer an official USB version, there are other options. For example, users with an external drive could hook it up to their netbook. Services such as Best Buy’s Geek Squad are also an option. In theory, since Microsoft plans to offer a downloadable version, a person could put the OS on their own thumb drives.

Microsoft confirmed in February that all editions of Windows 7 will run on netbooks, but at the time the company didn’t address how users who already have one of these low-end computers would be able to upgrade. Matt Bonin, a merchant director at Best Buy, said Microsoft is working with the Geek Squad to help develop services that would streamline Windows 7 upgrades. As for netbooks, Bonin said the company already offers services to load other types of software on to these machines.

To make matters worse, most netbooks run on Windows XP. Those who choose to upgrade to Windows 7 will be able to purchase an upgrade, but they must back up their data and perform a clean installation of the OS and reload all applications. The same thing goes for Vista users with a high-end version who wish to transition to a lower-end version of Windows 7 as well as European users trying to upgrade to Windows 7 using the browser-less E version. All of these added hassles could create a barrier that prevents some netbook users from upgrading.

If Microsoft doesn’t find an easy upgrade path, the challenge of putting the new OS on older systems could overshadow the technical work Microsoft has put in to make running Windows 7 on netbooks possible.