This week, Microsoft and Dell announced a partnership with (RED), the international organization that was created to help women and children affected by HIV and AIDS in Africa. As part of its efforts, (RED) works with the world's most iconic companies to create (PRODUCT)RED branded products whose sales contribute directly to the cause. Microsoft and Dell are shipping integrated (RED) branded software and hardware that is now available to the public. Most intriguingly, at least to readers of this site, is that Microsoft is offering a special new version of Windows Vista as part of the deal.

About (RED)

(RED) is part of the Global Fund, an organization dedicated to fighting AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria around the world. (RED) was created to specifically address raising money and awareness for AIDS and HIV in Africa. It's a real pandemic: About 4400 people die from AIDS or AIDS-related problems in Africa every single day, according to Susan Smith-Ellis, the chief executive officer at (RED).

(RED) provides 100 percent of the money it raises directly to Global Fund-financed AIDS grants in Ghana, Rwanda and Swaziland. The idea behind (RED) is simple and effective: By partnering with popular businesses and brands, (RED) has dramatically raised contributions to the Global Fund because every (RED)-branded product that's purchased includes a donation.

To date, (RED) has partnered with a wide variety of companies, including Apple, Hallmark, American Express, and Motorola. You may have seen that Apple, for example, sells (RED)-branded iPods in the iconic red (PRODUCT)RED packaging. This week's announcement with Dell and Microsoft is a first of sorts, however, because it represents two of the biggest titans in the technology industry coming together and providing their marketing muscle and visibility to the organization and its goals.

What Dell is doing

For its part, Dell will sell a number of (PRODUCT)RED-branded hardware products, all of which will come in the trademark (PRODUCT)RED color and style. "We're so excited to be part of this program," Dell's Anne Camden told me during a recent briefing. "In this case, the customer is the hero because they can make a choice that immediately impacts a life in a positive way." Each of Dell's (PRODUCT)RED products includes a contribution to (RED). Best of all for the consumer, there's no added cost: The contributions do not add to the cost of the products.

Dell is offering four (PRODUCT)RED products. The first is the XPS One (PRODUCT)RED, a special version of the company's recently-released all-in-one desktop computer. These systems start at $1599 and include an integrated 20-inch widescreen display. For each XPS One (PRODUCT)RED sold, a contribution of $80 will be made to (RED).

Two Dell notebook computers are part of the program as well, the XPS M1330 (PRODUCT)RED and XPS 1530 (PRODUCT)RED. The XPS M1330 is Dell's 13-inch widescreen notebook, while the XPS 1530 features a 15-inch widescreen display. Both notebooks start at $1149. For each (PRODUCT)RED-branded XPS notebook sold, a contribution of $50 will be made to (RED).

Finally, Dell is also offering its Dell 948 All-in-One Printer (PRODUCT)RED through the program. This multifunction printer provides printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine capabilities along with two-sided printing, direct-from-camera printing, and optional Wi-Fi connectivity. It starts at $149 and a contribution of $5 will be made to (RED) for each unit sold.

All of Dell's (PRODUCT)RED products will be made available worldwide, Camden told me. You can purchase them now at the Dell Web site or, in the US, at Best Buy's retail stores starting this weekend.

Microsoft's entry: A special version of Windows Vista

Microsoft has created an exclusive new version of Windows Vista for the project, a version that will only be sold with Dell's (PRODUCT)RED PCs. Dubbed Windows Vista Ultimate (PRODUCT)RED, this Vista version includes 6 unique (PRODUCT)RED-inspired wallpapers, a (PRODUCT)RED screensaver, 2 (PRODUCT)RED Windows Sidebar gadgets, and a (PRODUCT)RED-themed DreamScene animated background.

"It's exciting to work on products that impact people's lives," Craig Cincotta, a Microsoft senior product manager for Windows, told me. "This isn't about features or performance. It's about doing something positive for people." All of Dell's (PRODUCT)RED PC products--the XPS One, XPS M1330, and XPS M1530--will ship exclusively with Windows Vista Ultimate (PRODUCT) RED. This will be the only OS choice offered on these systems, and this OS will not be offered to other PC makers or sold separately.

Cincotta walked me through the various unique features in Vista Ultimate (PRODUCT)RED, and in addition to the two (RED)-themed Sidebar gadgets, one of which links to Microsoft's (RED) Web site, there is also a (RED)-themed version of Sidebar clock. "We worked very closely with Dell to make sure the experience is great," Cincotta told me. "We wanted to have the software match the hardware, and marry the two together in a unique way. It's a unified (RED) experience."

Finally, all three companies are also announcing their first-ever Super Bowl TV advertising, which will debut when the New England Patriots and New York Giants square off February 3, 2008 in Glendale, Arizona. The advertisement will feature Dell's (PRODUCT)RED products, Windows Vista Ultimate (PRODUCT)RED, and the (RED) organization.

Final thoughts

It's hard to quarrel with a project that is both humanitarian and, frankly, working really well. To date, (RED) has raised almost $60 million, a sum that is about 10 times what the Global Fund was able to previously raise privately. With the addition of Dell and Microsoft, the success of (RED) will only grow. The only thing I'd like to see, really, is a way for the (PRODUCT)RED version of Windows Vista Ultimate to be made more widely available to consumers, both via other PC makers and at retail: This is a cause that I think many would be proud to rally around.

This article is an adapted and expanded version of an article that first appeared in the January 24, 2008 issue of WinInfo Daily UPDATE. --Paul