Windows XP Starter Edition Milestone: Helping Millions Cross the Digital Divide

REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 9, 2006 —Since the idea for Microsoft Windows XP Starter Edition was first hatched in June 2003, the Microsoft team responsible for it has visited families in emerging markets around the globe, met with prime ministers and information technology government officials, forged new connections with local and international PC manufacturers and overcome linguistic challenges. Along the way, the team has helped bring computer literacy to more than 1 million families who might not have otherwise had been able to purchase or use a PC.

Will Poole, Senior Vice President, Microsoft Market Expansion Group

Will Poole has been there since the beginning. As senior vice president of Microsoft’s Market Expansion Group, Poole was part of the team that initially responded to the Thailand government’s request for help in delivering computers to underserved populations in the country. That request was the genesis of Windows XP Starter Edition, and since then Poole and his team have been inspired by the response of families around the world learning and growing with their first Windows PCs.

PressPass talked with Poole to get the story of his team’s amazing journey.

PressPass: Why did you create Windows Starter in the first place?

Poole: In mid-2003, the Thai government announced a program to improve access to technology for underserved populations — middle- and low-income families who aspired to own their first PC but hadn’t yet been able to purchase one. Their goal was to put a PC in every one of the homes of these families, and they invited us to partner in this ambitious project. As we worked with the Thai government, we reconnected with Microsoft’s original vision of a PC on every desk and in every home. We felt that these efforts were bringing us back to the very foundation of the company.

As a result of participating in that program, we conducted additional research in other emerging markets, and found that the potential was huge to enhance Windows and other technologies in ways that make them more relevant, accessible and affordable to people whom we haven’t traditionally been able to reach. So that was really the genesis of Windows Starter.

PressPass: What makes Windows Starter a good fit for these markets?

Poole:Throughout our research in emerging markets, we identified a number of key factors that had to be considered for any emerging markets technology solution to be successful. Three key areas we addressed were tailoring to beginner users, affordability, and deeper localization.

First, tailoring. One of the most important areas we identified was the need to tailor the technology to meet the needs of beginner users. This required us to set aside assumptions about the end user. For example, we had to enhance Windows so that it would make sense and be easy to use for someone who had never used a computer before, not even at work or at school. The new Help functionality in Windows Starter includes topics like how to use a mouse or connect a printer, which a typical operating system assumes the user knows. Also, we omitted a set of more advanced features that our research showed could cause confusion for a novice user. Our team took a hard look at typical support calls from first-time users, looking at what things were tripping them up, and we eliminated some of the features that were really designed for experienced users. We simplified Windows Starter while at the same time maintaining compatibility with existing applications and devices – which is expected from Windows users everywhere. We have taken some criticism for these simplifications in the Western media from time to time, but I think that stems from people viewing the product from an advanced user’s perspective instead of understanding the realities of the customer we are designing for. Users shouldn’t be intimidated or overwhelmed with their first computer experience. We really embraced the idea that the operating system, as the heart of the PC, must be both easy and productive for beginning users. There is also a version of Windows Starter being developed for Windows Vista. This new version builds upon our learnings with Windows XP Starter, and we are hopeful this version will be even more successful at helping beginner users get started with a PC.

Affordability of both PCs and genuine software is a key consideration throughout emerging markets. Incomes in middle- and lower-income segments in emerging markets are often unpredictable, and generally much lower than in developed markets. So the OS needed to be lightweight enough for low-cost hardware to run efficiently, and we needed to reduce the base cost of the operating system as well.

We also had to localize the operating system to each market, in many cases more deeply than we had ever previously localized any software. When you take a look at some of the emerging markets, we had localized into the national languages, but often hadn’t yet localized Windows in widely used dialects or local languages. Having a product in the local language is crucial to achieving the goal of putting the power of personal computing into the hands of more and more people. Some of these countries require the use of multiple languages at once, so we had to figure out how to make a multi-lingual system that could easily switch between dialects to make it relevant to various groups within each market. The Indian multi-lingual version of Windows Starter was a challenge to develop as it included both local languages and English – we’re excited to have had such a positive response to this new version as it is reaching across language barriers throughout India.

Beyond language localization, we also included a lot of localized imagery. There are 25 language versions of Windows XP Starter Edition, sold in 139 countries and we included region specific imagery for each release. So when we release in a particular market, say Indonesia, not only is Windows Starter in the local Bahasa language, but it also has a look and feel that is more Indonesian than other products.

I could go on and on about what was done to Windows Starter, but the bottom line is that this is an OS designed specifically for beginner PC users in emerging markets. The close attention to local users’ needs creates a unique product that makes it possible for these users to be a part of the digital world for the first time.

PressPass: Now that more than a million copies are out there, how do you feel?

Poole:Lower- and middle-income segments of the world’s population represent a remarkably large group of people who, quite frankly, our industry has rarely connected with. The technology industry is a fascinating machine that pushes the envelope of sophisticated innovation each and every day. However, there are people in the world that sophisticated technology simply doesn’t serve. In the case of emerging-markets customers, sometimes simple innovation is a more effective way to increase digital inclusion. The inspiration of serving the technology needs of this segment is hard to describe. This project has been an opportunity for us as technology professionals to touch people’s lives. It’s not just a million copies of our software, it’s millions of kids becoming computer literate who otherwise may not have had the chance for that, and millions of families learning, connecting, and enjoying life via their new on-ramp to the Internet. These families also actively provide us with feedback that continually shapes our future offerings – it’s quite satisfying to have them participate with us in the design process. And we don’t do this alone – we get to partner with innovative local manufacturers, retailers, NGOs and governments, all of whom share the same passion of reaching these people with technology.

As Microsoft employees, I guess we also have a better understanding for what Bill Gates and other company founders were saying with the slogan “a PC on every desktop and in every home” when they started Microsoft. This is a business, but it’s also about doing what we can to change the world. So to me, there is no product in our portfolio that is more “Microsoft” than Windows Starter.

PressPass: What does Windows Starter mean for the future of computing in these emerging markets?

Poole:There are several layers to that. On the most fundamental level, we see this product as laying a foundation for a new generation of users – computer-literate children who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity. As they grow up with computer skills, we believe they will one day have a tremendous impact on their societies, building the academic, economic and social capital of the country. Also, in many of these markets the government has objectives around increasing the digital literacy and productivity of its citizens, so Windows Starter is also helping these governments achieve their objectives.

And then of course Microsoft shares goals with our industry partners around growing our own businesses as well. Local hardware partners in these countries are getting the opportunity to grow and produce a line of computers for this market, which they haven’t been able to do in the past. We have seen some exciting innovation in India where ISVs are developing applications based on Windows Starter, a hardware vendor in Brazil that has grown by 25 percent due to these sales, and plenty of other new developments. We expect to hear more and more stories like these, as Windows Starter becomes an established member of the Windows platforms, on which the local IT industry can grow.

On top of all that, particularly in Latin America, we are seeing an increase in the percentage of Genuine Windows PCs being sold as opposed to the so-called “grey market” PCs running counterfeit or pirated software. The effect of reducing the software piracy problem by addressing affordability is also good for everyone in the industry.

PressPass: You say that you and members of your team have traveled all over as part of this project. What are some of your favorite stories?

Poole:One of the most important factors behind the success of any product is a true understanding of the customers’ wants and needs. With that in mind, our team has traveled to all corners of the globe to learn what would really make a difference for this product. Throughout these travels, we have heard some amazing and inspiring stories as customers experience the PC for the first time through Windows Starter. We have heard of children whose reading skills have improved, people who have advanced their careers by learning new skills online, families who can stay in touch long distance through the PC, rural farmers who are making more money from their crops, and entrepreneurs who have grown their businesses, all because of having a computer. The team has compiled some of our favorite stories, videos and photos to share on the occasion of crossing the 1 million mark. You can actually see me in one of the photos on a recent trip to Thailand. I was touched by this family, their hospitality and excitement for how the computer had benefited their family. You can read this story along with others at

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