XP Starter under the gun

Critics say Windows XP Starter Edition is still not flexible enough to meet the needs of developing countries. Photos: XP around the world

Even as Microsoft's low-cost version of Windows reaches more corners of the globe, some analysts are wondering whether it is hitting the mark.

The addition of a Spanish-language version this week means that Microsoft is now selling Windows XP Starter Edition, a localized adaptation of the full-fledged operating system, in a half-dozen languages in various emerging markets.

Critics say, however, that the software is still not flexible enough to really meet the needs of developing countries and individuals who live there.

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What's new:
Microsoft's Windows XP Starter Edition, a localized version of the full-fledged program aimed at developing countries, is not flexible enough to meet the needs of people there, critics say.

Bottom line:
If the low-cost OS isn't meeting the mark, it could have implications for Microsoft's goal of getting 1 billion computer users worldwide.

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To offer Starter Edition for far less than other versions of Windows XP without hurting its existing business, Microsoft imposed a number of restrictions, such as the fact the program can only open three windows at a time.

"I think someone who has any experience with a PC is going to start hitting the limitations pretty quickly," said Gartner analyst Michael Silver.

That, however, gets at one of the toughest things to figure out about Windows XP Starter Edition--who the target customer is. Identifying that person will help Microsoft reach its goal of getting a billion PC users , largely by upping computer usage in emerging countries such as Brazil, India and Russia.

Microsoft says the software, which is offered only as part of a budget system, is aimed chiefly at first-time computer users--those who have never really interacted with Windows. For that reason, the company has poured most of its development resources into things like local language videos that explain PC basics, such as how to print and how to use a mouse.

"It is the soul of Windows XP Starter Edition," said Mike Wickstrand, a director of Windows product management who helps lead the Starter Edition effort. "It's the part we've invested the most in."

But critics say the people in developing countries most likely to be able to afford a computer--even an affordable one with Starter--are middle-income residents who may well use a PC at work. Such customers may be more computer-savvy and less likely to buy a product with limitations. In a report last year, Gartner researchers said that while Starter Edition showed potential, it was unlikely to have much impact until its shortcomings were addressed.

"Microsoft will make little progress in the market with this product, as indicated by key PC vendors' adoption plans," Gartner analysts Dion Wiggins and Martin Gilliland wrote in an October report. Early signs appear to bear their conclusion out .

In general, Microsoft has been working with smaller, locally based computer makers in the countries where Starter has been offered. However, Dell is among the PC manufacturers that have signed on for the effort in Mexico.

The software maker has also concentrated its push in countries, such as Thailand, where the government is looking to play a central role in expanding PC usage. Microsoft announced plans to offer Starter

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    During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried has changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley. These days, most of her attention is focused on Microsoft. E-mail Ina.

     

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