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RealTime IT News

XP Gets a Start in Southeast Asia

Microsoft announced a pilot program to provide Southeast Asian computer equipment manufacturers with a lower-priced version of Windows XP.

Starting in October, Windows XP Starter Edition will ship on new, low-cost desktop PCs available through manufacturers and OEM distributors in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Language versions, including tutorials and instructional videos, will be available for each country. Microsoft said it plans to add two more countries to the pilot program by the end of the year.

The company confirmed in June that it was ready to ship the Starter Edition. The software, developed in cooperation with the Thai Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, was designed with entry-level users in mind.

Windows XP Starter Edition features a redesigned help system, called My Support, with a built-in Getting Started Guide. To help reduce newbie confusion, advanced settings are pre-configured and task management has been limited to three programs and three windows per program running concurrently. The display resolution is set to 800x600 maximum, and there's no support for PC-to-PC home networking, sharing printers across a network or more advanced features, such as the ability to establish multiple user accounts on a single PC.

In many Asian countries, computers and operating system software are sold separately. For example, Techdos, a Malaysian OEM participating in the pilot, sells a 2.80 GHz computer with an Intel Pentium 4 processor for $1,050. The optional Windows XP Home Edition goes for $92 more.

This situation makes Microsoft particularly vulnerable to piracy. JupiterResearch analyst Joe Wilcox said that the de-featured budget edition may not stem the assault of software pirates.

"The de-featured version will compete against pirated versions," Wilcox said. "Will people take the de-featured version when they can get a full pirated version for the same price or, more likely, less?"

Microsoft said that during the 12-month pilot, it will evaluate the benefits for first-time PC users, software and hardware industry partners, participating governments and itself. After the 12-month pilot phase, it may introduce other local versions in additional developing markets.

Microsoft is battling heavy competition from Linux in international markets. But Wilcox said that the countries in the pilot are not necessarily open source battlegrounds. Instead, Wilcox sees the XP pilot program as a sort of beta test for Redmond's efforts in emerging countries.

"These countries are where it learns what it needs to do and works through the process. Microsoft will then use them as a stepping stone to larger countries."