The excitement that greeted Gates reflected Vietnam's eagerness to follow in the footsteps of rising Asian high-tech powers like India.

Le Tuan Anh, a second-year computer engineering student who clutched a copy of Saigon Entrepreneur magazine that profiled Gates on its cover, said: "I've been waiting for Bill Gates to come to Vietnam for a long time. Hopefully this will boost IT development in Vietnam"

Gates, whose visit comes as Vietnam seeks to carve a niche for itself in the high-tech world, said the country had the potential to become one of the Asian "miracle" economies by investing in its young people.

"The key element to allow IT to help the economy grow, and become an export sector itself, comes back to investment in education," he said during a speech at the close of his whirlwind, day-long tour. "Clearly I see that over the next decade Vietnam will join those miracles."

Earlier in the day, thousands of students, some of them perched in trees and others on balconies, lined up outside the auditorium at the Hanoi University of Technology to catch a glimpse of him as he came to make a speech on the future of technology.

Popularity

"The key element to allow IT to help the economy grow, and become an export sector itself, comes back to investment in education. Clearly I see that over the next decade Vietnam will join those miracles"

Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman

His arrival sparked momentary pandemonium as the students swarmed his entourage, pushing against security barricades.

After a standing ovation, Gates told his audience with a world connected through the Internet, "someone's opportunity is not determined so much by geography but by the educational investment you make."

"I certainly encourage students to use the Internet as much as possible and learn about the global economy. Most of the opportunity for Vietnam is in the global economy," he said during an hour-long talk where he encouraged the country's leaders to consider not only manufacturing but software development and outsourcing.

His image projected on giant TV screens beside the podium, Gates later took questions from the young audience of about 1000 inside the auditorium as well as thousands of others watching him on big screen outside.

Vietnam is keen to jump-start its high-tech sector, which got a big boost earlier this year when the world's largest chipmaker Intel Corp. announced plans to build a $300 million assembly plant in Ho Chi Minh City.

IT investment

Vietnam's leadership is keen to
hook up with the computing giant

The country's fledgling high-tech industry is working to raise its profile even as Vietnam battles a reputation as one of the region's worst violators of intellectual property rights. It is one of the most prolific producers of pirated software in Asia, and copies of Microsoft operating systems sell on the street for a couple of dollars.

Microsoft representatives later signed an agreement with the Ministry of Finance, making it the first government office in Vietnam with licensed Microsoft software installed.

In Tam Son commune outside Hanoi, he launched the 'One Click Project' aimed at providing low-cost computers with stripped down versions of Microsoft programmes and Internet connection in a bid to make technology accessible.