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November 12, 2002 | 1412 IST
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Microsoft to invest $400 million in 3 years in India

Josy Joseph in New Delhi

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates on Tuesday announced a $400 million investment in India over three years, while presenting his vision for the coming decade that he termed as the 'digital decade' and the most exciting of the times.

Microsoft chief Bill Gates with IT Minister Pramod Mahajan. Photo: ReutersThe software czar announced a massive programme to spread computer literacy through the entire canvass of India, while giving the journalists, gathered at the conference hall of Taj Palace Hotel, a swift ride through the immediate possibilities of the wireless world.

"Next decade will be a very exciting decade," Gates announced, standing next to the Tablet PC - an advanced wireless computing device mixing the functionality of a laptop and personal digital assistant that will be launched in India next month in collaboration with local partners.

The $400 million investment in India, Gates said, would be on various fronts.

He launched 'Project Shiksha-Empowering The Future,' which aims at providing computer education to 80,000 schoolteachers and through them 3.5 million students across India in five years.

Microsoft would also partner with state governments to set up 10 Microsoft IT Academy Centres and collaborate with over 2,000 partner-driven school labs in five years, he said.

Gates also announced that Microsoft would launch Windows XP and Office with Hindi language interface within the next year.

In addition, he said, the company would extend Windows XP local language support to Bengali and Malayalam, thus increasing number of Indian languages supported by Windows XP to 11 languages.

At the India Development Centre of Microsoft in Hyderabad, he said the company would invest $100 million over the next three years. And increase the staff strength to 500 from present day 200.

More than his investment plans, it was his vision of the coming days and the future for India that were interesting. And that is what he started with. "Incredibly high speed developments are taking place," Gates started, noting that this is despite the fact that the IT industry is in a slump.

He said the CPU capacity, bandwidth, and storage capacities are doubling every 18 months. "We take these advances and say what kind of software can bring them alive, with great productivity," he said.

The next decade, the Digital Decade- "a term I use very deliberately"- would witness ordinary people around the world receiving their bills on their PCs, storing their photos and music on their computers and people extensively using internet activated systems that are TV connected, and various versions of personal computer, he said.

To take full advantage of such an exploding Digital Decade, India needs to strengthen its educational system, develop a global infrastructure and allow its people to collaborate with global players to develop software, where India is already a force to reckon with, Gates said.

He said the next decade would witness people moving to PC devices to read, take notes etc as the devices overcome the present day shortcomings. It would also witness a single address communication that is secure with voice, video and screen call facilities, and fully mobile and secure.

The next decade would be a very exciting decade "because Microsoft has taken a long-term view, we believe to keep going full speed ahead," the Microsoft chairman said as he wound up the Delhi part of his India visit.

He said during the Internet excitement people miscalculated the potential in the short run, but "now they are assessing the long-term impact," and the .Net software is an evidence of Microsoft's long-term belief in the power of Internet.

He said Microsoft is looking at closing the gap between people working at long distances, by employing real time software links and a lot of stress is put on developing such software for creating real environments between people working at long distances.

The press conference began somewhat melodramatically, in a dimly lit hall that resembled a nightclub. Gates walked in from the rear entrance to the stage.

The stylishly conducted conference ended with Gates offering an evasive reply to a question from a young reporter asking about his (Gates's) lifestyle. He said he would not leave all his fortunes for his children.

Earlier in the day Gates met Information Technology and Communications Minister Pramod Mahajan.

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