When Microsoft said that Windows XP Starter Edition, the cut-rate version of Windows for emerging markets, was for beginning computer users, the company wasn't kidding.
The operating system will not work on computers running Intel's Pentium 4 processors or the Athlon from Advanced Micro Devices, a public relations representative said on behalf of Microsoft. Instead, it will run on computers containing Intel's Celeron chips, AMD's Duron or Geode chips, or processors from Via Technologies.
"When you try to load it onto a Pentium 4 machine, it gets to the processor ID and stops functioning," said P.R. Lakshmanan, senior vice president of Zenith Computers in Mumbai, India, who tried it as an experiment. Zenith is one of India's larger local PC makers. Starter Edition for India won't be released publicly until June.
Selective incompatibility appears to be geared at preventing Starter Edition from supplanting standard versions of Windows XP. Starter Edition doesn't support the same level of functionality as the standard Windows XP. However, PC makers have to pay only $15 to $35 for each copy, according to various PC makers in these markets. Windows XP Home costs $70 to $80 per copy and the Professional Edition costs even more.
Without the incompatibility, PC makers and dealers could potentially start bundling the OS onto computers for business customers. Microsoft does not sell the OS separately. It sells it only to PC makers, who then load it onto PCs.
"Windows XP Starter Edition is designed for beginner home computer users who are seeking a more affordable computing solution for their homes. As such, it is designed for low-cost, entry-level desktop PCs running value-based processors," a representative for Microsoft said in an e-mail.
Microsoft has released or will release versions of Starter Edition for Brazil, Malaysia, Russia, Indonesia, Thailand and India. These are some of the fastest-growing PC markets in the world, and the software is designed to make it easier for ordinary people in these markets to learn about computing.
Linux, though only a blip in the desktop market, is gaining popularity. In India, for instance, professor Jitendra Shah has translated a version of Linux and a number of applications into the regional languages of India to help villagers learn computing.
Microsoft hopes to use Starter Edition to familiarize these markets with its products. Plus, because these countries are also havens for piracy, the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker wants to use perks such as bug patches and alerts to demonstrate the value of legal software.
Sales, though, have been somewhat slow to date in the countries where Starter Edition has been released. Thailand PC makers have sold it since October, while the OS has been available in Malaysia and Indonesia since February.