Microsoft announced yesterday that the company is launching a five-country pilot program for Windows XP Starter Edition, a new low-cost, reduced-functionality version of XP that's designed for first-time computer users. Microsoft decided to develop XP Starter Edition because some governments believe that the cost of computer hardware and software has increased the digital divide, leaving their countries behind.
  
"Windows XP Starter Edition demonstrates Microsoft's commitment to collaborate with the Thai government to provide significant benefits for our citizens and their future," Dr. Surapong Suebwonglee, Thailand's minister of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), said. "The development of XP Starter Edition represents an encouraging step forward to help bridge the digital divide in our country by making software more available and more relevant for first-time PC users."
  
In addition to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, two as-yet-unnamed countries will participate in the 12-month trial. Microsoft hasn't announced prices for XP Starter Edition, but the company says that the OS will be the most inexpensive Windows version ever sold. The product will be available through PC makers and other distributors. During the pilot program, Microsoft will evaluate the product, including how easily new computer users adapt to using it.
  
According to Microsoft sources I spoke with yesterday, XP Starter Edition is basically a modified version of XP Home Edition that includes some unique new features but supports only three open windows at a time and is limited to 800 x 600 resolution. The software ships with a new localized Help system called My Support, country-specific customization features, and most of XP's features. The OS doesn't support PC-to-PC networking, network-based printer sharing, or multiple user accounts, however.
  
Microsoft says that XP Starter Edition will be available in October. I'll provide more information about this product as it becomes available.