Microsoft has starting promoting a stripped-down version of Windows Vista to emerging economies in a bid to reach a billion new customers.

Windows Vista Starter edition will have an impact on education, communication, productivity and entertainment in regions such as South East Asia, said Nabil Chebbi, Microsoft's director for the Windows Client Business Group.

The Vista Starter edition will have the same look as the other Windows Vista versions, and also offer the improved security of Vista, support for Intel and AMD processors, and will require only a minimum of 384MB RAM and standard SVGA graphics card.

"Through the Starter edition, we are offering consumers in emerging markets the same Vista experience at a more affordable rate and in an easier manner," Chebbi said.

The product will launch at the same time as other Vista versions for the consumer market in January 2007, but Microsoft has yet to announce pricing for the product.

"Windows Vista Starter will be the most affordable version and it will run on entry-level hardware," Chebbi said during a recent briefing held in Singapore.

"We wanted to see how we could offer the Vista experience to countries with low PC penetration."

Chebbi added that there is a great opportunity to bridge the so-called digital divide because almost 90 percent of the worldwide population still has no internet access.

According to the Microsoft official, the company aims to help people discover what technology can do for them.

"There are several layers to that. On the most fundamental level, we see this product as laying a foundation for a new generation of users – computer-literate children who otherwise wouldn't have that opportunity," he said.

Chebbi believes that, as these children grow up with computer skills, they will one day have a tremendous impact on their societies – building the academic, economic and social capital of their respective countries.

"Also, in many of these markets the government has objectives around increasing the digital literacy and productivity of its citizens, so Windows Starter is also helping these governments achieve their objectives," he added.