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Last Updated: Monday, 16 August, 2004, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
Cheap Windows comes under fire
Pirated Microsoft software
Microsoft software is widely pirated in Asia
Microsoft's plan to impress new users with a cut-down version of Windows has come in for strong criticism.

The software giant has created Windows XP Starter Edition for countries where the PC-owning population is still low.

But analysts from consultancy Gartner said the cut-down version would be "frustrating" to use and warned firms and consumers to stay away from it.

Microsoft has defended its decision to produce a cheap version of XP, saying it was suitable for first time users.

"Windows XP Starter Edition reflects a simplification to the operating system corresponding to the lowered price and increased value," said Paul Randle, Windows Client product manager.

Limited features

The Starter Edition of Windows XP is intended for low-cost PCs on sale in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia and two other countries in Asia. The cheap version is due to go on sale in October.

The cut-down edition features a support centre to answer queries, mouse tutorials and guides for widely used Windows programs.

Consumers should steer away from XPSE until it is retooled to grow with the user
Gartner research note
XP has also been changed to only allow users to run three programs at once and forces all the users of a single PC to use the same desktop but log in separately to the software they use.

The Starter Edition also has many of the common settings in Windows pre-configured to help users get started.

The move is seen as a response to Linux, a free-to-use system with a strong following in poor countries.

Analysts say Linux poses a growing threat to Microsoft's dominant Windows operating system, used on more than 90% of the world's computers.

An open source system which PC users can install on their machines and modify without paying a licence fee, Linux has made significant inroads into the software market in Latin America and Asia.

Tested offering

In its research note, Gartner said Microsoft's tactics were not well thought out and "fail to meet the most basic needs."

Gartner analysts Dion Wiggins and Martin Gilliland said Microsoft should have done more to make Starter Edition more secure by including anti-virus software and putting in tutorials about the dangers of viruses and other common security problems.

First time computer users tend to use a small number of programs and windows at the same time, which helps them stay organised and reduces confusion
Paul Randle, Microsoft
The analysts said many people in the target countries were familiar with Microsoft Windows from net cafes and would be "frustrated" by the changes made to the cut-down edition.

The fact that the only upgrade available from the Starter Edition was the full cost version of XP was likely to encourage piracy, warned the analysts.

"Enterprises shouldn't consider this offering," said the research note. "Consumers should steer away from XPSE until it is retooled to grow with the user."

Microsoft told BBC News Online that its decision to launch a cut-down edition of XP was based on considerable research, much of it in Thailand and Malaysia.

"First time computer users tend to use a small number of programs and windows at the same time, which helps them stay organised and reduces confusion," said Microsoft's Paul Randle.

"Based on this research, we have designed an operating system that enables first time users to perform their most popular tasks, such as e-mail, accessing the web, writing documents and entertainment, and that provides a lot of assistance and guidance in getting started with using their PC."

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