Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday launched a simplified version of its Windows operating system in Brazil, which could be used in computers to be sold to the poor under a government-subsidized program.

The government is mulling whether to use free software or Microsoft Windows in up to 1 million computers under its PC Conectado, or the Connected PC, "digital inclusion" program, and Microsoft has been actively lobbying for Brazil to buy its product.

Microsoft Brasil President Emilio Umeoka said the company formalized its offer of the so-called Starter Edition of Windows to the Brazilian government on Tuesday and hoped they would give the Starter Edition a chance.

The offer includes technical support across Brazil, but no financing guarantees, he said, adding that there was no deadline fixed for the government to respond to the offer.

Brazil is Latin America's largest economy and one of Microsoft's biggest markets in the developing world.

"We want new users and new clients and we believe that the Starter Edition will help, and a lot, in expanding the PC market in Brazil," he told reporters.

The Starter Edition is a simplified version of Windows XP, oriented at users who have never had a computer or have little computer experience. It can open only three programs at the same time, with a maximum of three windows for each program and cannot connect to computer networks.

Without revealing the price of the program, Umeoka said that starting from May, the operating system will appear on computers sold by five PC producers in Brazil, adding that he expected sales in "tens of thousands" of such computers.

Local computer maker Positivo said it will sell computers with the Starter Edition at 1,599 reais ($625), 300 reais more than a PC with the open-source Linux system.

Umeoka said the simplified Starter Edition was part of a global Microsoft strategy aimed at expanding the market in developing countries and that similar products had already been launched in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

Some experts say high-quality free software is better than scaled-down versions of more costly proprietary software like Windows. A final decision on which software to install has been delayed several times.

Some cabinet members think consumers should have a choice between buying a computer with open-source software and paying slightly more for a machine with Microsoft software. They think this approach would make sense to reach consumers who are already familiar with Microsoft software.

Brazil, the world's fifth most populous country and a growing economic power, has taken a prominent role in the so-called free software movement, an effort that champions free computer operating systems like Linux as an alternative to Microsoft's Windows program.

Many government agencies are migrating to Linux to cut millions of dollars in software licensing costs.


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