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MS sets sights on 'next five billion'

Software giant redoubles efforts to reach the new users with major initiative announced today (April 19).

Software giant Microsoft is expanding its efforts to reach the "next five billion" users of technology with a major initiative announced today (April 19).

As part of a wider announcement, the vendor will make millions of copies of its most popular software products available worldwide for a fraction of their usual cost.

Microsoft will provide its Student Innovation Suite - a bundle of some of its main software products, including Windows XP Starter Edition and Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 - for just US$3 to governments for them to distribute low-cost PCs to students. Separately, the products would cost hundreds of dollars.

The suite was part of an announcement made today by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in Beijing, China, for the firm to expand its Unlimited Potential programme.

"All human beings deserve a chance to reach their full potential," Gates said, adding that reaching the next five billion would require products to meet their needs, as well as new business approaches to make technology more accessible and affordable.

Microsoft has also created new business groups to address emerging market segments, led by two of its senior executives, Orlando Ayala and Will Poole.

Fernando de Souza, in charge of market development for MEA emerging segments, said the Innovation Suite would be made available to support government schemes to reach disadvantaged members of society.

Countries that will qualify automatically for the scheme include Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Oman.

Microsoft is also planning to expand its number of Innovation Centres. CEO Steve Ballmer is due to visit Kuwait and Qatar next week, where he is expected to announce plans for centres in the region.

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