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One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has entered into an agreement with Microsoft governing the installation of Windows XP on the nonprofit organization's low-cost XO laptops for use by impoverished children around the world.

The partners, which are scheduled to begin conducting pilot programs in emerging markets next month, expect the Windows-powered XO laptop to be ready for full-scale deployment in August or September, said James Utzschneider, manager of Microsoft's developing-markets unit.

"Initially it will only be available in emerging-market countries where governments or NGOs are subsidizing the purchase of a large number of PCs for students," Utzschneider said. "But there is the possibility of making this available for other customers through a broader set of channels at a later point in time."

Opening the Door

Microsoft announced last month that it would extend the life of Windows XP through the development of an abbreviated version to meet the needs of an emerging new class of mobile -computing devices known as ultra-low-cost PCs (ULCPC), which typically have smaller screen sizes and lower-powered processors than more expensive laptops. The XO laptop, in particular, posed a number of technical constraints that took a year for Microsoft to overcome.

"Windows was too big to fit on the 1GB non-flash module on the motherboard, so we are using a 2GB SD memory card," explained Bohdan Raciborski, group program manager for Microsoft. "So we had to first create a BIOS, because at that time there were no PC BIOSs that supported SD cards."

In a 2GB volume, Raciborski noted, it becomes possible have a complete Windows and Office experience running on the XO laptop. Moreover, it takes about 50 seconds for Windows XP to boot up on the XO, he said.

"We haven't modified Windows or Office in any way -- we haven't removed any components to have them run on this hardware," Raciborski said. "You can do almost anything that a student or teacher would want to do."

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