Asian countries are playing a bigger role than ever before in the development of new technologies, and the region\u2019s importance as an R&D center will continue to grow during the years ahead, said one of Microsoft\u2019s top executives in the region."We think that Asia will be at the center of, and in many ways will lead, global innovation over the next decade," said Oliver Roll, general manager of Microsoft Asia-Pacific.Microsoft Research (MSR), the company\u2019s basic research arm, lies at the heart of Microsoft\u2019s Asian R&D efforts. MSR has two labs in Asia: one in Bangalore, India, and another in Beijing. The work that goes on in these centers spans a wide range of topics, including next-generation user interfaces, Internet search, cryptography and technologies for emerging markets.Apart from the basic research efforts under way at MSR, Microsoft has also invested heavily in software development centers across Asia, tapping into different areas of expertise in the region. "Countries are going to become niche players and experts in niche fields," Roll said. "It\u2019s not always going to be China and India."Asia\u2019s growing importance as an R&D center reflects the region\u2019s fast economic growth. Asian gains in gross domestic product have been matched by significant increases in IT spending across the region, Roll said. "India is growing at over 20 percent, China at 14 [percent] to 15 percent, and all of Southeast Asia in double digits," he said.This rapid growth has made technology, particularly mobile phones, widely accessible in Asia. For example, between 1998 and today, the percentage of people with a mobile phone in the Philippines rose from 2 percent to nearly 50 percent, Roll said. "That\u2019s quite dramatic growth," he said.Microsoft hopes the "pay-as-you-go" model used to sell mobile phones can be used to expand PC access in Asia. The company is testing sales of PCs in India and China using its FlexGo technology, which allows users to pay 50 percent of the computer\u2019s cost up front. Users then buy additional FlexGo units to use the computers on an ongoing basis. When the value of the computer has been paid off, users are able to use it without limitation.For now, FlexGo remains in a testing stage, but the pricing model and technology should soon be more widely available. "I don\u2019t think it will be long before it goes into full availability," Roll said.-Sumner Lemon, IDG News Service (Beijing Bureau)This article is posted on our Microsoft Informer page.\u00a0For more news on the Redmond, Wash.-based powerhouse, keep checking in.Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.