BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Microsoft Corp. announced Wednesday that it will offer a low-cost, stripped down edition of its Windows XP operating system in Asia starting in October, as it strives to fortify market share against erosion from the open-source Linux system and software piracy.
Although Microsoft still holds a commanding share of the desktop PC software market worldwide, several major computer retailers in Asia in the past year have begun offering hardware with locally adapted Linux installed.
Industry analysts have described the launch of what already has been dubbed ``XP Lite'' _ with lower-resolution graphics, fewer networking options and less multitasking ability than full XP versions _ as a pre-emptive move against Linux.
Linux is open-source software available for little or no cost to computer vendors and users because no licensing fee is charged in its basic form.
Microsoft also hopes lower-priced products can help combat software piracy, which is rampant in developing countries of Asia, where legitimate programs often are out of the reach of buyers.
The new software, officially called Windows XP Starter Edition, is ``affordable ... and designed specifically to meet the needs of first-time users'' in developing countries, Mike Wickstrand, group product manager of Microsoft's Windows division, told a news conference Wednesday.
The Starter Edition will ship on new, low-cost desktop PCs available through manufacturers and Microsoft distributors in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, he said. The software _ which will come in the Thai, Malay and Indonesian languages _ will not be available separately for end users.
Computers with Starter Edition installed will cost between $300 and $400, the company said.
In Thailand, the computers also will ship with Microsoft Office 2003 business software. In Malaysia, they'll be loaded with Microsoft Works, a more consumer-oriented system for word processing and other functions.
Wickstrand said two more countries in the pilot program would be announced later this year after further discussions with governments.
When Microsoft found out that Linux was being offered last year as part of the Thai government's program to promote affordable computers, it decided to offer a Thai-language-only version of normal Windows XP at unprecedentedly low prices.
This year it instituted a similar program in Malaysia, while it developed Starter Edition.
Key features of the new software include enhanced help, country-specific motifs, and ``preconfigured settings'' for features that might confuse novices.
The Thai version includes wallpaper photos of Bangkok's Grand Palace, a national landmark, and a white-sand beach in southern Thailand. One screensaver is a waving Thai flag.
The new software's ``simplified task management'' can run three programs concurrently, representing a downgrade from the standard XP system. A full XP version can run many more programs concurrently, depending on the amount of memory in a computer.
Other downgrades include a lack of support for home networking and printer sharing and the absence of advanced features such as the ability to establish multiple user accounts on a single PC, the company said