The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant on Wednesday announced a yearlong pilot program to start shipping Windows XP Starter Edition to India in early 2005.
Earlier this week, the company made a similar move in Russia, while plans for Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia were confirmed in August, as part of the software maker's plan to gain market share in developing nations.
Unlike the full-fledged version of Windows, which supports nine vernacular languages, the stripped-down, budget-priced operating system for India will be available only in Hindi. Hindi is India's national language and is widely spoken in most major states, but the country's diverse population also speaks close to 20 other local tongues, including Bengali, Marathi and Telugu.
Microsoft will consider supporting additional local languages only after the pilot program, said Yannis Dosios, Microsoft's product manager for emerging markets. But he acknowledged that "we'll need more languages if we really want to make it relevant for India."
As with the other four markets, the Starter Edition will be bundled only with entry-level PCs in India and is not for retail sale. A mix of local and multinational computer makers, including Acer, Hewlett-Packard, HCL and Wipro, have so far put their weight behind the operating system, Microsoft said.
The company will disclose pricing details to participating PC vendors and authorized distributors in India over the next few weeks, but sources peg the price to be around $36, significantly lower than the standard edition of Windows XP.
Besides costing less, the Starter Edition also features cosmetic enhancements, including screensavers of local landmarks such as the Taj Mahal, plus localized wallpapers.
The changes were the result of feedback on what software users deemed as "representative of their country," Dosios said. In all, 6,000 test users were involved in trials across all five countries, with more than 200 based in India. "We also received feedback from 500 PC manufacturers," he said.
Aesthetics aside, Microsoft has modified the Starter Edition's functionalities to differentiate it from the higher-priced version of Windows XP. The ability to do home networking and to create multiple user accounts on a single PC has been removed, while display resolution is capped at a maximum of 800 by 600 pixels. More important, users can run only three programs or have three windows opened at once, a limitation that research company Gartner believes could frustrate users and drive them to buy bootleg copies of Windows XP instead.
But applications that are automatically loaded on start-up--such as an antivirus program or Microsoft's MSN Messenger--will not add to the count, Dosios told CNETAsia: "The limit only applies to programs that the user calls out. So far, we have not received any complaints from beta users on this issue."
Following the India announcement, Dosios said Microsoft has no immediate plans to offer the Starter Edition in other emerging markets but will focus on "learning from the experience" in the five flagship countries.
Winston Chai of CNETAsia reported from Singapore. CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.