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RealTime IT News

Microsoft: More Mice Are Merrier

Microsoft is looking out for 21st-century kids around the world. In a move geared toward getting more traction for its Office and Windows products in developing nations, the company has introduced software that allows multiple input devices, such as mice and joysticks, to function concurrently on a single PC.

The Microsoft Research India unit developed MultiPoint, which is intended to address the fact that most schools in developing nations cannot afford enough PCs to support the number of students being taught.

MultiPoint allows educators to compensate for poor student-to-PC ratios by allowing several students to use their mice concurrently, each linked to an individually colored cursor.

Sherri Bealkowski, general manager for Microsoft's Emerging Markets Education group, explained that in typical school environments where there aren't enough computers to go around, the most aggressive kids get to control the mouse and benefit from their experience, while the more passive kids don't get the opportunity to learn how to use the technology.

"We see that PCs are a precious resource in many places around the world," she told internetnews.com.

MultiPoint organizes students into teams and asks them to perform a series of tasks that have to be completed before they can move on to the next screen, said Bealkowski.

"It helps them learn collaboration and computer familiarity so that they can be competitive and can help their countries be competitive," she told internetnews.com.

In addition to giving more kids access to the PC, the application allows teachers to track each individual cursor so they can tell how each student is performing.

Microsoft is releasing an alpha version and software development kit in January. The company will then publish regular builds until release to manufacturing in May.

Bealkowski said she hopes developers will flock to create a variety of pedagogic applications running on MultiPoint. To that end, Microsoft is sponsoring a separate award for Imagine Cup participants who design software applications for MultiPoint-based classroom scenarios.

It may seem a little bit like an old guy in a raincoat handing out candy at the schoolyard, but it's not the first time that Microsoft has married business goals with humanitarian aspirations.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor introduced FlexGo in the spring to help consumers in developing nations get computer and Internet access on a pay-as-you-go basis.

It has also expanded Windows Starter Edition (WSE), a stripped down version of its operating system for emerging markets.

Unlike these programs, which are marketed exclusively in emerging markets, Bealkowski said that Microsoft may make MultiPoint available in the U.S. market.

While these programs have garnered praise for helping bridge the digital divide, they have also served several important strategic purposes.

For instance, FlexGo and WSE help Microsoft curry favor with foreign governments that may otherwise steer their economies towards less-expensive or free technology. The programs also serve to introduce Microsoft products to down-market consumers who are likely to gain purchasing power in the years and decades to come.

Clearly, MultiPoint will give Microsoft an edge with the youngest of those potential customers. In fact, Bealkowski freely admitted that Microsoft hopes that those kids will become devoted Microsoft consumers when they grow up.

But she said the main idea behind MultiPoint is helping kids in developing economies get the kinds of skills needed to find work in the 21st-century economy.

"Governments want educators to have access to tools needed to get work -- Windows and Office skills. It's something the market wants and it's good for us and for everybody."