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Microsoft is to hold talks with Asian governments with a view to shipping cut down versions of Windows for sale under government sponsored technology drives.

Speaking at a news conference in Malaysia yesterday, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates would not elaborate on which countries he had in mind. But he said that his company would be flexible "about tuning the versions (of Windows) to meet any government program". The software giant is currently shipping tailored versions of Windows - dubbed "XP starter Edition" - in Malaysia and Thailand.

Gates sits on the board advising the Malaysian government on technology policy, and has just agreed by which the company will invest $2.62m over five years to train teachers and "improve technology in schools", according to Forbes.

The move is widely seen as an attempt to counter to the growing pressure the company is under from open source software options.

The public sector in particular is veering towards technology that is available without hefty license fees. The UK government, for example, is conducting trials of alternatives to Microsoft software in an attempt to reduce its spend, and the Public Accounts Committee has recommended that open source be made the default choice for the government if the trials are successful.

In the small Swedish town of Motala (pop. 42000), authorities reckon they will save SEK 400,000 (eight per cent of the Motala IT budget) yearly by scrapping MS for Linux in its schools. The savings will mean Motala's schools will be able to afford more thin clients, according to the report. More on that here- for Swedish readers.

It is also likely an attempt to get legitimate, and license fee paying, product into the low end of a market where piracy is rife. Legal copies of Windows cost users as much as $135, while pirated software can sell for as little as $1.40 per copy.

The next leg of Gates' world tour will take him to China. ®

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