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Papa's never too old for digital age

Seattle, Nov. 22 (Reuters): For people trying to get their ageing parents on the web so they can read e-mail and get digital photos of the family, Microsoft Corp. has a message: Don't give up.

The hassle of buying, installing and learning how to operate a personal computer remains a daunting task for a generation more comfortable sitting in front of a television set instead of a monitor, despite software and hardware advances that make it easier than ever to get online.

But now Microsoft, the largest player in the market, is using those advances to zero in on an age group that wants to surf the web and is estimated at 40-million strong.

It's all part of a way for the Redmond, Washington-based company to extend its software business beyond Windows for the desktop and into living rooms and pocket devices.

MSN TV 2, the latest version of an interactive platform once known as WebTV, launched last month as part of a renewed effort to spread the use of Microsoft's software for browsing the web, reading news and e-mail, and accessing digital content.

'Our average user is 57-years-old,' said Andy Sheldon, senior director of product marketing for MSN TV. 'These people are getting to the age where they don't want to deal with complicated ways of connecting to the web.'

Besides older people, Sheldon said Microsoft is targeting all first-time web users, particularly in developing economies where the Internet is out of many people's reach because of the cost of a PC.

MSN TV, the second generation of the product launched after Microsoft bought WebTV in 1997, costs $200 for a set-top box, remote and wireless keyboard.

Users must also sign up for a subscription. Costs are $22 per month or $200 per year for dial-up access and $10 per month or $100 per year for those with existing high-speed broadband connections.

Included in the plan packages are e-mail and instant messaging accounts, and for those with faster Internet access, access to 200 radio stations and video clips. Viewers can also browse web pages or even digital photos stored on memory cards.

Behind Microsoft's push to capture the often overlooked older segment of the population is the promise of carving out a chunk of the interactive television market, estimated to grow to $2.3 billion in 2007.

Besides MSN TV, that figure also includes advanced cable services, such as the ability to store TV shows and movies on set-top boxes that also double as digital video recorders.

The goal, as the company described it, was convergence, when television and computer technology would merge to become a comprehensive information platform.

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