Three mainland cities are to offer Internet access fee discounts of up to 50 per cent to Venus computer users as part of United States giant Microsoft's plan to popularise computer use and Internet surfing. Developed by Microsoft, Venus computers amalgamate the functions of conventional home appliances such as televisons, VCD and DVD players with those of computers through the link with TVs. Microsoft officials said at the product launch at hi-tech show COMNET Shenzhen 99 yesterday that Beijing Telecom, Shanghai Telecom and Guangzhou Telecom would offer substantial discounts on Internet access fees for Venus users. Microsoft China R&D Centre managing director and project initiator Sean Zhang Xianghui said: 'The demand for Internet is increasing rapidly in China. 'However, the majority of Chinese cannot afford personal computers because of limited income and educational background. This is where information appliances play a significant role.' Legend Holdings and TCL International Holdings officials expected to sell Venus computers at less than 3,000 yuan (about HK$2,800) each. The two are among more than 30 local and overseas participants in the Venus projects, which included computer and home appliance makers, software companies and Internet service and content providers. TCL chairman Li Dongsheng expected Venus computers would have a competitive edge over conventional computers because of their low cost. 'There will always be a major price differential between Venus and conventional computers because Venus computers only provide partial computer functions and do not need a monitor,' he said. The first range of Venus computer products is expected to hit the shelves in one to two months. Microsoft's regional director of Greater China, Michael Rawding, said the Venus computer was developed in China by Chinese engineers for the Chinese people. Microsoft's software, including the Windows CE operating system which is used as the platform of Venus computers, would take up no more than 10 per cent of the cost of the system, he said. The Ministry of Information Industry estimated the mainland would have four million people on the Internet without a personal computer next year and almost 50 million by 2003.