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Microsoft strips Office from charity PC scheme

App-free Windows coming to a poor community near you...

Software giant Microsoft is to abruptly ditch the use of Office through its popular global community refurbishment scheme.

An El Reg reader alerted us to the firm's decision to unexpectedly withdraw the software from the Microsoft Authorised Refurbishment (MAR) program.

Under a special licence agreement (pdf) with Microsoft, authorised "refurbishers" - usually IT professionals wishing to do their bit for charity – could install Windows XP, Works 7.0, or Office XP Standard as one bundled package on old computers.

Installed machines would then be donated to an "eligible charitable organisation" or an "MS specifically approved recipient".

Hospitals, schools, and other community groups across the world have benefited from the scheme since its inception, while Bill Gates satisfied his altruistic itch.

But, speaking anonymously to The Register, our source (a UK-based refurbisher) told us that Microsoft decided to scrap Office as of 27 June 2007, citing "legal reasons".

The firm had already announced plans to remove Works 7.0 back in April this year and had requested that refurbishers send back all stock by 31 July at the latest.

Withdrawing Office at such short notice was a move that could leave "lots of small charities high and dry", said the source.

"Poor users are being excluded from the system and computers are losing a valid second life".

Such applications are often used on old computers sent out to remote areas where facilities such as broadband are not available, making access to word processing tools essential.

El Reg contacted Microsoft to get the official word on why it had decided to remove Office from the MAR scheme.

In a statement, the firm told us:

"Whilst Office will no longer be available through the MAR programme, registered charities will still be able to obtain Office and a selection of other products through our software donation programme.

"Microsoft's software donation initiative is run by the Charity Technology Trust. The Charity Technology Exchange (CTX) programme allows UK-based charities and NGOs to request a range of Microsoft software.

"The charities need only pay an admin charge to cover the cost of the programme, and save over 95 per cent on the ERP. For further details please visit."

The CTX alternative appears to be asking charities in the UK to go direct to Microsoft for software donations, effectively cutting out the middle man or refurbisher.

Microsoft refused to comment on the "legal reasons" behind its decision but a spokesman confirmed that "the software will be withdrawn globally".

Anyone for Solitaire? ®

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