Google will partner with Rwanda and Kenya to make Web communication tools such as e-mail and PC-to-PC voice calling more widely available in Africa, the company said on Monday.

The deal is aimed at spreading the Internet and Web-based tools more broadly throughout developing countries. It is also the latest sign of Google's increased competition with Microsoft, which is also promoting its software heavily in developing countries.

People in the two East African nations who have access to a PC will be able to use Google Apps, which includes Gmail, the Google Talk instant messaging and PC-to-PC voice calling software, Google Calendar, Google Page Creator and Google Docs & Spreadsheets.

"In Africa and in the developing world, it also means doing our part to make sure that everyone has access to the same services wherever they live, whatever their language, and regardless of income," Francoise Brougher, of Google's Business Operations Team, said in the company's blog.

Several other companies and projects are devoting resources to similar projects aimed at narrowing the digital divide. The worry is that millions of people around the world risk being left behind if they do not have access to computers and the Internet for education and communication.

The Mountain View, California Internet company said 20,000 Rwandan students at the National University of Rwanda, the Kigali Institute for Education and the Kigali Institute for Science and Technology, as well as government officials, will have access to Google Apps for free. The tools will be extended to more users at a later, unspecified time.

The applications will be offered under the institution's domain names, Google said in a statement, and will be hosted by Google.

In Kenya, 50,000 students at the University of Nairobi will be offered Google Apps, with the services to be extended to 150,000 students at other universities in a broader rollout to come later.

Info World