Page last updated at 11:26 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 12:26 UK

Microsoft developing 'senior PC'

By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter, BBC News

Pensioner uses a computer
The UK government has committed to ending digital exclusion

Microsoft UK is developing a "senior PC", which will have a simple interface and be aimed at older users.

The PC will come with software that allows users to manage prescriptions as well as simplified tools for everyday use, such as managing photos.

The machine, which it is developing in partnership with charities Age Concern and Help the Aged, is one of several projects the firm is working on.

The plans were unveiled at a Digital Inclusion conference in London.

Social software

In the UK alone, some 17 million citizens are described as "digitally excluded".

In the United States, Microsoft already offers a number of so-called senior PCs, in conjunction with HP computers. It is not clear if the UK project is identical to the one in the US.

Other projects Microsoft is working on include an ad-funded PC and one that uses what it describes as a "social software licensing model".

In partnership with Milton Keynes council, this machine will come preloaded with a "digital literacy curriculum" - a step by step guide to how to get online, be safe and perform simple computer tasks.

Initially it will be given to a thousand households and this will be gradually scaled up to 10,000.

Speaking at the National Digital Inclusion Conference in London, Microsoft's head of skills and economic affairs Stephen Uden laid out the firm's vision for closing the digital divide.

"Reaching most of the final third will mean that we have to throw out the rule book. We will only solve these issues by taking risks and trying new things," he said.

"Some of the projects we are working on will work. Others will fail," he said.

No further details were available on the senior PC at this stage although it will be ready within a year, said Mr Uden.

Mobile phones

He also said that the problem will not be solved by PC access alone.

"We have to get away form the idea that everyone is going to get a PC. It is simply not easy enough to use or cheap enough for everyone."

Digital inclusion translates to social inclusion
Jim Knight, minister for Schools and Learners

Instead many of the digitally excluded with be reached via mobile phones, digital TV and gaming consoles, he predicted.

Mike Hughes, head of BT's Inclusion Programme, said the firm had projects in London, Andover and Dorset where it aims to join together 150 community centres.

It too will be handing out internet-ready PCs - 4,500 of them - to specific community groups.

"Working with the government, local authorities and volunteer groups we aim to reduce the digital divide figure by 10% of the current 34%," said Mr Hughes.

Delegates at the Digital Inclusion conference were angry at the slow pace of broadband upgrade and also the fact that, in some cases, BT charges business rates to community-based projects.

Mr Hughes promised to investigate the matter.

Creativity

The government is giving new impetus to the issue of digital exclusion, recently appointing a Minister for Digital Inclusion and creating the Home Access taskforce, which will see free PCs given to the most needy.

Jim Knight, minister for Schools and Learners, said it should be a priority for government.

"Digital inclusion translates to social inclusion," he told delegates.

But some delegates urged more creative thinking from government on the issue.

"There is a perception that if you nail someone... to the chair and teach them world processing the world will be a better place. It won't," said Kevin Carey, vice chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People.




SEE ALSO
Digital divide grows with web use
25 Jul 07 |  Business
Digital inclusion strategy for UK
29 Apr 08 |  Technology
Social sites reveal class divide
25 Jun 07 |  Technology
Digital divide 'is still there'
12 Jun 07 |  Education

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