Microsoft announces software suite for schools in developing countries

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Apr 19, 2007, 8:52:53 AM4/19/07
to i-School
April 19, 2007 (IDG News Service) -- BEIJING - Microsoft Corp.
Chairman Bill Gates launched an initiative here Thursday 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 US$3 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 tostudents 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

Gates emphasized 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
favorite 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 in London.

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
organizations 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 Inc. microprocessor, and
powered by a hand crank. OLPC has targeted a price for its laptop at US
$100 per unit by 2008, although Libya, Nigeria, Egypt, Rwanda, and
Ethiopia ordered units priced at US$150 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," Gates

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

(Elizabeth Montalbano in New York contributed to this report.)

Story copyright 2006 International Data Group. All rights reserved.

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