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Gartner: 'Steer away' from cheap Windows XP

That's the research firm's verdict on Microsoft's stripped-down Starter Edition for developing countries.

Gartner has labeled Microsoft's upcoming version of Windows for developing countries as a product with good intent but poor execution.

In a report published this week, Gartner analysts Dion Wiggins and Martin Gilliland noted that missing features in the Windows XP Starter Edition would frustrate users and claimed that its limited software upgrade path would "likely increase software piracy."

Microsoft on Wednesday announced plans to launch the cheap, easy-to-use version of Windows XP in five emerging markets, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

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Targeted at first-time users, the operating system has had some features removed, such as file-sharing, print-sharing and support for local area networks.

In its report, Gartner agreed that such home-networking functions have "little relevance" to Microsoft's target audience. However, it chided the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant for imposing other restrictions, such as allowing users to run only three applications at a time.

The research firm also cited security as an issue, particularly the provision of patches and updates for users with slow and expensive Internet connections.

"Many citizens who do not own a PC are already familiar with basic PC use from cybercafes and schools," wrote Wiggins, vice president and research director of Gartner Research and Advisory Services. "Windows XP Starter Edition is likely to frustrate these users, as it is not delivering the same quality experience due to the limitations imposed."

Wiggins added that Microsoft's lack of an upgrade path from the Starter Edition means that more advanced users will have to pay the full retail price for XP Home Edition. This may prompt users to turn to bootleg alternatives and lead to increased software piracy, he said.

In conclusion, the authors recommended that enterprises should not consider the product, while even consumers should "steer away" until it has been "retooled to grow with the user."

A Microsoft representative said company research indicated that "first-time computer users tend to use a small number of programs and windows at the same time, which helps them stay organized and reduces confusion."

The representative added that Microsoft would continue to gather feedback from consumers over the next 12 months.

Aloysius Choong of CNETAsia reported from Singapore.