Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates launched an initiative in Beijing aimed at bridging the digital divide between technologically advanced and developing countries.
The initiative, an expansion of Microsoft's "Unlimited Potential" strategy, involves offering governments a $3 (£1.50) software package called the Student Innovation Suite. It 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 by the end of this year to qualifying governments that are working to supply PCs to students to promote technology skills. In 2008, Microsoft will extend its availability to all countries with economies defined as low- or middle-income by the The World Bank.
"In each country it is tailored to the interests of the government and citizens, but it's about innovation, it's about integration, and it's about creating jobs in those regions," Gates said, speaking at the conclusion of the two-day Microsoft Government Leaders Forum Asia in Beijing.
Gates emphasised the role of technology in education, and said the software would be a first step towards offering children in the developing world greater access to computing. He referred to "my favourite Windows product, the Windows tablet," and said that tablet PCs could eventually replace paper in schools.
"Over time, students won't need to have textbooks. The cost of [the tablet] will be less than buying textbooks, and yet the experience of using it is dramatically superior than what you would have had with a paper-based experience," Gates said.
While Gates has always been a proponent of using technology to solve social, economic and health problems worldwide, this latest move is not purely altruistic, one industry analyst said.
"You'll find that Microsoft would be fairly open if pushed that they don't go into a market for philanthropic reasons," said Clive Longbottom, founder and analyst of Quocirca, a technology research firm.
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