Microsoft today announced the Microsoft Unlimited Potential program to bring computers to the next 5 billion people. Microsoft will work with the governments of countries to supply low cost PCs to students. Microsoft will provide Windows XP, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Math, Learning Essentials, and Windows Live Mail, all for $3, to governments that purchase and supply PCs directly to students.
“All human beings deserve a chance to achieve their full potential,” said Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft. “Bringing the benefits of technology to the next 5 billion people will require new products that meet the needs of underserved communities; creative, new business approaches that make technology more relevant, accessible and affordable; and close collaboration between local governments, educational institutions and community organizations.”
Donna Bogatin at ZDNet has a good summary of the Unlimited Potential program as well as Microsoft's Partners in Learning Program, a five-year, $250 million program that is active in 101 countries, with training that has equipped 2.5 million teachers to reach more than 57 million students across the countries.
In addition to the discounted Office and Windows bundle, Microsoft is announcing several other projects. The company will nearly double, to 200, the number of local innovation centers it has over the next two years. Microsoft will also set up an employability portal aimed at helping more of India's technology workers find jobs. The software maker is working with the Asian Development Bank to help build additional technology capacity there.
All of these programs are coordinated to help build and sustain a local software economy in developing countries. One of my colleagues, John Fernandes, has made it his life mission to help developing countries build the infrastructure, education programs, and entrepreneurial support for a vibrant software ecosystem.
There are lots of good people at Microsoft trying to make a difference in the world. It is not something you hear much about in the press, but today's announcement brought attention to some of those people and programs.