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Bill Gates endorses Malaysia's MSC

September 13, 2000

If Malaysia was looking for an endorsement for its high-tech hub, the Multimedia Super Corridor, it couldn't have gotten it better than from Bill Gates.

CYBERJAYA, Malaysia - "Outside of the US, you won't find a project where the scale of the commitment and the energy put behind it is any greater than this one," said the Microsoft co-founder and chairman on a visit here today.

Gates also described the 750 sq km MSC zone, aimed at emulating the Silicon Valley, as "a long term project where the milestones that have been met are very impressive."

Gates spoke at the launch of the software giant's wholly-owned subsidiary Microsoft Knowledge Capital Center Sdn Bhd (MKCC), a research arm set up specifically for the MSC.

His visit comes in the wake of a successful MSC advisory panel meeting held last week attended by some of the bigwigs of IT industry including Compaq Corp CEO Michael Capellas, Acer Group chairman Stan Shih, former Apple CEO Gil Amelio and Sun Microsystems Inc chief researcher John Gage.

The panel provides the Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his team counsel on the future direction of the project. Gates has preferred meeting the Prime Minister privately in and around the same week the meetings have been held on the last four occasions.

The 29 attendees of 44-member panel were unanimous in their vote for the speedy build up of the MSC in four short years, particularly in the midst of the currency crisis.

Malaysia took a lot of flak for going ahead with big-ticket spending on the infrastructure components of the project, including a lavish residence for the Prime Minister, and delays in dishing out cash for the flagship software applications of the project.

But with the Asian recovery kicking in, the buzz around the MSC is definitely on the rise.

Over 360 companies have committed to the project, including well-known players Intel, Siemens, NTT, Motorola, Oracle and Sun Microsystems, and various smaller companies which are in the midst of incubating much-needed value-added research and design activities.

Several key pilot projects for the MSC, including a nation-wide telemedicine network; a national multi-purpose smartcard to merge each citizen's driving licence, identity and health details with an e-cash system; and a business-to-government application, are set to roll-out in the September to December timeframe.

Microsoft is involved in the e-government component of the MSC, which seeks to develop a customized desktop environment for the government, beginning with the Prime Minister's office.

Gates announced additional funding for the MSC, although this was miniscule in comparison to Microsoft's push into other emerging economies in the region including India and China.

Microsoft today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) worth RM10 million (US$2.6 million) with the Multimedia University, to sponsor training and development programs, including a Windows DNA lab, over the next five years.

Gates indicated to the press in Sydney this week that he was putting more Microsoft eggs in the India and China baskets, where he anticipated a boom in the future.

In Australia to attend the World Economic Forum in Melbourne and present Microsoft's .NET strategy, Gates also counted Japan, Australia, South Korea and Taiwan as healthy growth areas for the firm.

He is swinging by India and Malaysia before returning to Sydney for the Olympic Games, which kicks off Friday.

Julian Matthews is ZDNet Asia's correspondent n Malaysia.