Within days of the official release of the first African language interface pack (LIP) for Windows XP, Microsoft has announced the coming release of a new edition of the operating system that is tailored to the needs of first time users in Africa.

The Windows XP Starter Edition for Africa has been released to manufacturing and will be available to the South African market through a variety of innovative supply channels and payment methods from July, Microsoft SA MD Gordon Frazer told journalists in Bryanston last week.

“We are working with a variety of local and multinational PC makers to find ways of bundling Starter Edition with entry-level machines to deliver an affordable hardware and software package to the local market, hopefully at around R2 000,” said Frazer.

Starter Edition requires a PC with a 233MHz processor, 64MB of RAM, 1.5GB hard disc space, CD-ROM drive, Super VGA resolution video adaptor, and a mouse or compatible pointing device.

Visiting Microsoft EMEA regional president Neil Holloway said Starter Edition was one of several initiatives that represent Microsoft's commitment to providing an information and communication environment for social and economic development in emerging countries.

Windows XP Starter Edition will help grow the use of technology in Africa, says Gordon Frazer, Microsoft SA MD.

Starter Edition is also a part of Microsoft's strategy in the next four years to increase the number of Windows users in 83 countries and bring technology to 250 million people for the first time, which includes doubling the PC penetration in SA to 20%.

“Starter Edition is a direct response to a demand in the region to make Windows more accessible to a greater number of people. It's about providing greater choice in a highly competitive market,” Holloway said. He denied the move was related to the growth of open source software in Africa.

Starter Edition for Africa builds on the success of other regional versions, which Holloway said had done extremely well in countries like Brazil by meeting the needs of lower income groups.

Despite the fact that Starter Edition is in English, Microsoft will ensure compatibility with all African LIPs, such as the isiZulu LIP released earlier this week, said Jonathan Hatchuel, Windows client business group manager at Microsoft SA.

In an attempt to make Windows XP more accessible and less intimidating, Starter Edition features African-style desktop backgrounds, a simplified user interface for easy navigation, large icons, animated demonstrations, and a specially developed desktop help system.

“Starter Edition includes the security, multimedia, Internet and e-mail capability of other versions of Windows XP, except there is no networking or multi-user functionality and users are limited to a maximum of three applications at any given time,” explained Hatchuel.

According to Frazer, fear of feeling intimidated by the operating system and learning how to use it are the biggest barriers to entry for many first time computer buyers and users.

“By adhering to the principles of simplicity and affordability, we believe Windows XP Starter Edition together with our local language programme will achieve greater digital inclusion and grow the use of technology in SA and the rest of the continent.”