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Ballmer Courts India

Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other top officials Wednesday as part of the company's efforts to boost its presence here.

Ballmer's meetings with Singh and Communications Minister Dayanidhi Maran focused on government policies and steps taken by Microsoft to make the Windows operating system available in more Indian languages, said an Indian official.

The talks also touched on how Microsoft could participate in enhancing computer penetration in India, said the official, who didn't want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media.

Localizing Windows has been a key component of Microsoft's strategy to stay ahead of its competition in India, where only a small fraction of its 1.06 billion people speak English.

Despite a low base of about 18 million computers, India's technology adoption is gaining momentum thanks to a booming software export industry and growing domestic market.

India also is a battleground for supremacy between Microsoft's Windows -- a proprietary software -- and Linux, the open source software that can be downloaded free from the Internet.

Several Indian state governments have embraced Linux, while others have accepted software donations from Microsoft.

About a year ago, Microsoft said it would invest $1.7 billion over a four-year period ending in 2009 and hire at least 3,000 new employees to expand its operation here.

Ballmer is in India on a three-day visit, ending Friday, to take stock those expansion plans.

He was to announce a strategic alliance with Hutchison Essar Ltd., a leading cellular phone service provider in India, later Wednesday.

On Thursday, Ballmer travels to Bombay, where he is scheduled meet with Indian business leaders. He also plans to visit Microsoft's research center in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, the company said.

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