Microsoft Offers $3 Software Package for Developing Countries

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2007-04-19 Print this article Print

Chairman Bill Gates announces new products and programs to help bring social and economic opportunity to a possible 5 billion people under the banner of its existing "Unlimited Potential" initiative.

Microsoft is expanding its "Unlimited Potential" initiative to include offering a software package, the Student Innovation Suite, to governments and students in emerging countries across the world at a price of just $3. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will use the Government Leaders Forum, which he is hosting in Beijing on April 19, to announce new products and programs under the banner of its existing Unlimited Potential initiative.
The goal of this enhanced initiative is, essentially, to help bring social and economic opportunity through new products and programs to as many as possible of the potential 5 billion people who do not yet use Microsoft products.
There are three primary pillars to this enhanced initiative: education, fostering local innovation, and generating jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, Orlando Ayala, the senior vice president of Microsofts new Emerging Segments Market Development Group, told eWEEK in an interview from Beijing ahead of the Forum, which is being attended by 300 of the top influencers in Asia. Click here to read more about how the United Nations Development Programme and Microsoft partnered to create technology projects for developing nations. A critical component of the initiative is the Microsoft Student Innovation Suite, a software package that includes Windows XP Starter Edition, Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, Microsoft Math 3.0, Learning Essentials 2.0 for Microsoft Office, and Windows Live Mail desktop. The suite will be available in the second half of 2007 for a cost of $3 each to qualifying governments in eligible countries that buy and supply Windows PCs directly to primary and secondary students for their personal use at home and for school work. "Countries categorized by the World Bank as developing are eligible while, in developed countries, communities that are in the lowest 15 percent income bracket also qualify, as long as the government buys and supplies the machine to the student," he said. Click here to read more about XP Starter Edition. Many governments around the world are aggressively subsidizing hardware for students and their teachers. "We are seeing just about every country now taking steps to subsidize or buy computers for underserved communities," Ayala said. But, to many Microsoft critics, the move is nothing more than an acknowledgement of the impact open-source software has had on its business and a blatant attempt to win the hearts and minds of students in developing countries. However, for Ayala, the goal is enabling sustained social and economic opportunity for five billion people. "This is an issue of sustainability. Thats why, when people talk about Linux, I dont get emotional. This is about creating sustainable, long-term systems that allow you to propel society forward. This is about building for the long term and empowering the community," he said. Microsoft also cant control what software and systems these new users will choose over time, he said, adding that the ultimate outcomes will speak to the effectiveness of the program. Asked why a company like Microsoft is getting involved in what could be seen as a large-scale humanitarian or charitable effort and not a business investment, Ayala said there is a strong business case to be made for such moves. "Despite the skepticism that exists, I believe we have to try," he said. Read more here about knocking down the barriers to the $100 laptop. Roger Kay, the president of research group Endpoint Technologies Associates, told eWEEK in an e-mail exchange from Beijing that this Microsoft move is both complex and multifaceted. Aiming first systems at students is an old Apple tactic, Kay said. "The theory is that if you get them young, you can keep them for life. Here, Microsoft is betting that at least some of the kids from developing nations will turn into buyers of more mainstream products later in life. These are long-term bets," he said. The moves also reflect the competitive pressures Microsoft is under and how it is bowing to the economic realities in the developing world, and its also an acknowledgement that people could turn to free alternatives, Kay said. "But its also, I think, a genuine belief that computing brings educational and economic benefits to people, and a desire to do good while doing well," Kay said. Next Page: Taking a page from the Gates Foundation.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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