Windows launched the Windows XP Starter Edition (XPSE), what it calls a Windows XP for emerging markets, back in August 2004 in a bid to reduce piracy and to tackle the growing Linux/open source threat in third world.
By April 2007, 2 million computers with Starter Edition Operating Systems had been deployed, a tiny fraction of the number of XP and Vista computers sold during the same period.
XPSE has been unfortunately sidelined as Microsoft launched WIndows Vista Starter which is available in 139 countries and in 59 languages.
If you were wondering why you never saw WIndows Vista Starter in PC World or other computer shops, it is because it is not on sale in developed (i.e. high income) countries where it might be chosen over more expensive, feature laden Vista members.
The truth though is that Vista runs really slow on computers with less than 512MB and would probably be unbearable on the popular Asus EEE PC laptop which comes with 512MB memory and a 900MHz Celeron CPU.
Even a Vista Starter Edition, which surprisingly no one seems to have reviewed on the Interweb, would probably not do the trick - look at the system requirements on this page, Microsoft recommends dual core processors to get Vista SE humming.
Although XPSE had some limitations (such as a three applications restriction, a maximum of 1GB of memory and the fact that it supported only older processors), it beggars belief why Microsoft did not chose it be bundled with ATOM powered ultra low cost computers, instead of Windows XP Home.
The system requirements of Windows XPSE nicely dovetails with the specs announced by Asus, HP and other ultra cheap laptop manufacturers.
Ironically, because of these limitations, XPSE might have been a more secure, simpler and faster OS than any default Vista (or Windows XP Home for that matter) will ever be.
Finally, it highlights Microsoft reluctance to tackle the issue of the growing digital divide worldwide, unless under pressure from the Open Source movement and Linux.