Microsoft Corporation this week unveiled its plans to bring cheap computing to both the people of China and its government. The two-pronged approached places WebTV-like Internet set-top boxes in Chinese homes while state-run telephone and economic/trade bodies are receiving Microsoft software donations. China represents a huge potential market for Microsoft, with over a billion people, but the country's civil rights violations and rampant software piracy are major stumbling blocks.

The set-top box, code-named "Venus," runs on Windows CE and will give Chinese citizens cheap Internet access through their TV sets. TV is widely available in China, though PCs are not, mostly because of their expense. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates says the product will get the country online.

"It will really open up Internet usage there in a dramatic way," Gates says.

In the second part of the Chinese deal, Microsoft is donating an undisclosed amount of software to the state-run telephone service China Telecom, as well as China's State Economic and Trade Commission.

"The Internet is having an increasingly significant impact on our society, changing the way we work, learn, communicate and live," says Gates. "Microsoft is committed to helping build the 'digital nervous systems' that will lead to our digital future. We will fortify cooperation with all parties, including the Chinese government, to accelerate the development of the information industry, with the government setting an example of leadership through this project."

Among the software donations are server software, such as Windows NT Server, SQL Server, and Exchange Server.