updated 12/20/2004 3:37:04 PM ET 2004-12-20T20:37:04

Microsoft Corp. won a battle against open source software supporters in India's technology hub of Bangalore, with local authorities choosing its software for networking the state's utilities and services.

An e-governance project for the 55 million people of Karnataka state, of which Bangalore is the capital, will begin April 2005 and will be powered by Microsoft's proprietary software, an official said Monday.

"We will initially put 24 citizen services online and more later," said Rajiv Chawla, secretary of Karnataka's electronic governance department.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, on a visit to India in November 2002, wooed the federal and state governments in India, offering to sell his company's software at prices much lower than market rates.

Microsoft sold software at 45 percent of the market price to the private company executing the Bangalore project, Chawla said.

Microsoft's critics have opposed the plan, saying it was only a trick to tie large populations to proprietary software.

"By using proprietary systems, you are locked into a technology over which you have no control," said Frederick Noronha, an activist who supports greater freedom for software users.

"But Microsoft is quite popular even in villages. Let open source become so popular, then we will have no problem using it," Chawla countered.

Open source applications come without any restriction on use, copying and modification of the software, while proprietary systems impose several restrictions.

The government will initially open 15 centers across the city to provide services including utility payments, banking, passport applications, travel booking and social security applications. Internet access will also be offered. About 2,000 centers will be established across the state in two years, Chawla said.

Each center will have 20 staff members who will help citizens, including the illiterate, transact their business with the government online. A Web portal for the services will also be launched.

(MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

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