When Microsoft Corp.'s worldwide student software programming competition began four years ago, many projects that emerged were "fun," according to Craig Mundie, the company's chief research and strategy officer.

There was no shortage of smiles as Mundie and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates visited June 26 with some of the finalists from this year's Imagine Cup. But the problems the university students' projects addressed--education gaps in rural China, or the way blind and deaf students are shut out of mainstream classrooms--were much more serious than the music-player programs Mundie remembers from the early days.



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