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Middle East has fastest IT growth, says Ballmer

Microsoft CEO places region ahead of India and China for growth while signing Qatar ICT sector agreement.

The region's ICT industry is the fastest growing in the world, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said at the signing of an agreement aimed at boosting Qatar's ICT industry.

"The market for IT in the Arab world is the fastest growing in the world today," Ballmer said, stating that it was outpacing the growth of countries such as China and India. "We see this region playing an increasingly important role," he added.

Ballmer said that the region's influence could be seen at Microsoft itself, with the software giant having "many hundreds" of Arabic speakers working at its Redmond campus in the US. "So we see [the Middle East] as a source of talent," he added.

Microsoft last week announced its Student Innovation Suite - a bundle of some of its most popular software programs - would be made available for just US$3 to governments purchasing and supplying PCs to school children.

While Ballmer said he expected strong take-up of the initiative in the region, he said it would not apply to all countries. "There are some countries here that don't need to subsidise a computer programme, like here in Qatar," he said.

The Microsoft boss was in Qatar this week to sign a strategic partnership agreement with ictQatar, the country's industry regulator, to develop a series of initiatives aimed at promoting ICT development. He also visited Kuwait to sign a similar initiative.

Her Excellency Dr Hessa Al-Jaber, secretary general of ictQatar, said the partnership's aim was to boost Qatar's own ICT industry and help it to contribute to the country's economic growth. ICT currently accounts for just 0.6% of Qatar's GDP, Al-Jaber said.