Microsoft launches tech initiative in developing countries

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates launched an initiative in Beijing aimed at bridging the digital divide between technologically advanced and developing countries.

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Microsoft has to find more creative ways to distribute its software in emerging markets, where open-source software and Linux have a foothold, he said. Partnering with local governments and global organisations to reach students and developers is a good way to do that, he said.

Microsoft's Windows-based approached differs from other developing-world computing initiatives such as the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC), which makes use of an open-source Linux operating system, combined with an Advanced Micro Devices microprocessor, and powered by a hand crank.

OLPC has targeted a price for its laptop at $100 (£50) per unit by 2008, although Libya, Nigeria, Egypt, Rwanda, and Ethiopia ordered units priced at $150 (£75) earlier this year.

Libya has committed to providing 1.2 million laptops within a year, and Rwanda will offer 2 million laptops to schoolchildren within five years, according to the OLPC.

The OLPC effort has been led by Nicholas Negroponte, the co-founder of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab.

Technology's role in improving education is already established, according to Gates. He referred to a distance-learning experiment where the results of a class that experienced live instruction was compared to a remote education class. The latter received the lecture on DVD, and stopped the presentation every 15 minutes. The remote group could stop and discuss things wherever they wanted. Because it was start and stop, that was the group that did the best."

Microsoft and others needed to begin reaching out to the developing world through existing, lower-cost technologies such as mobile phones and television to provide basic computing and educational opportunities, according to Gates.

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