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Microsoft to hawk PCs to India's kids

Will it sell? That's the 40,875,000 rupee question

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Microsoft plans to sell a PC for kids and launch an educational channel on its MSN portal in India as the next step in a worldwide "Unlimited Potential" program.

Aimed at school students, Microsoft's new IQ PC will be built on AMD hardware and vended by Zenith Computers. The computers will put tykes out 21,000 rupees ($514).

Microsoft will also open the doors on the MSN IQ Beta Education Channel. The new channel will feature tutoring, exam coaching, and other educational tools for students.

"The task that we have today is to make technology pervasive and useful in the everyday lives of more and more people," Microsoft India chairman Ravi Venkatesan said.

India ranks as one of the largest emerging markets in the world, but Microsoft is eager to whip that Indian pony into a gallop. Best to get 'em while they're young.

"The currency growth of IT penetration in India might be rapid, but it is not rapid enough. Affordability is critical and goes far beyond low-cost hardware," Venkatesan said.

Microsoft plans to test the waters for IQ at 10 retail outlets in Bangalore and Prun for three months beginning in July, before expanding the offer based on market response.

The IQ PC comes loaded with Windows, Office, Encarta and specialized educational programs such as tutorials for competitive exams and homework helpers.

Microsoft will have to hope the software package will ease a price point that, while relatively inexpensive, is not on the low end of the PC market in India, where customers can pick one up for under $400. Microsoft India is also battling computer vendors who make a habit of installing pirated copies of Windows for no extra charge.

In July, India rejected the One Laptop Per Child project, which aims to provide kids in developing countries with a simple $100 machine. India's education ministry said that currently the country needs classrooms and teachers more than computers for children.

Microsoft's Unlimited Potential spokesperson Rachel MacGillivray said the 20,000 Rupees offering is an initial pilot, and Microsoft will work to bring the price down further as the program scales out.

Microsoft's Unlimited Potential campaign aims to get PC access for 1 billion people worldwide by 2015 — which just so happens to be the same target year as the United Nations' eight Millennium Development Goals. ®

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