Microsoft offers £120m for IT in developing world, with strings attached

Microsoft will spend £120m in schools worldwide over the next five years, part of a plan to triple the number of students and teachers trained in its software programs to up to 270 million by 2013.

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Microsoft will spend £120m in schools worldwide over the next five years, part of a plan to triple the number of students and teachers trained in its software programs to up to 270 million by 2013.

The money, part of the Partners in Learning programme, will go toward training and skills programmes in areas with limited IT training and equipment, said Orlando Ayala, vice president of the Unlimited Potential Group, part of Microsoft's education division, on Tuesday.

The announcement is one of several expected to come from the Government Leaders Forum (GLF), an annual conference where Microsoft courts educators and government officials. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates will keynote at the GLF on Wednesday in Berlin.

Microsoft's investment shows how important it views developing markets to its future business. Last year, Microsoft introduced the Student Innovation Suite, which includes the XP Starter Edition plus educational applications, for $3 for qualifying countries.

Microsoft faces heated competition from companies supporting the open-source OS Linux and associated software in developing countries. "I think as a company we welcome choice," Ayala said. "Frankly, we welcome the competition."

The company's educational funding comes with a hitch: "Of course, that includes the fact they [the schools] use Windows," Ayala said.

That approach contradicts one recommendation contained in a study of software usage in Europe completed in November 2006.

Presented to the European Commission, the study concluded that it's better for students to learn general IT skills rather than just proprietary software.

Otherwise, it's less likely that software from other vendors will be used if people are only trained in programs from one vendor, said Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, of the United Nations University-Merit in Maastricht in the Netherlands. Ghosh is one of the authors of the study.

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