Microsoft has extended its cut-down and localised version of Windows XP to Russia.

After Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, the Russian version of Windows XP Starter Edition will be available early next year, the software giant said yesterday.

The Starter Edition - dubbed XP-Lite - is part of Microsoft's efforts to take on the growing threat of Linux. The limited, cheaper version of Windows comes in the local language with pre-configured settings. By limiting its use and running it in a different language, Microsoft not only greatly reduces its value for software pirates but also enables it to bypass the "one price fits all" policy of old and so charge far less, making it comparable (though still more expensive) than Linux.

The starter OS lacks support for advanced features such as home networking, sharing printers across a network or the ability to establish multiple user accounts on a single PC. It also limits the number of applications that can run at a time to three. Analysts at Gartner have dismissed it, saying it fails to meet the most basic needs of users.

Microsoft has identified emerging markets as a major sales point. In the US, about 60 percent of households have a computer, in Western Europe about 30 percent, but in India the figure is below two percent, while Russia and China are below five percent.

XP-Lite is a pilot program, according to Microsoft. It plans to study how people respond over a 12-month period and gather feedback from software and hardware industry partners, and participating governments. After the pilot phase, it may be offered in other parts of the world.

And if you were in any doubt of its wonderfulness, the software giant has compiled a tear-jerking set of tales of how children across the world are now benefitting from its magnanimity.