How eight pixels cost Microsoft millions

Summary:Insensitivity to cultural issues has led to some of the software giant's products being banned in some countries.

Microsoft's lack of multicultural savvy cost the Redmond behemoth millions of dollars, according to a company executive.

The software giant has seen its products banned in some of the biggest markets on earth--and it's all because of eight wrongly colored pixels, a dodgy choice of music and a bad English-to-Spanish dictionary.

Speaking at the International Geographical Union congress in Glasgow on Wednesday, Microsoft's top man in its geopolitical strategy team, Tom Edwards, revealed how one of the biggest companies in the world managed to offend one of the biggest countries in the world with a software slip-up.

When coloring in 800,000 pixels on a map of India, Microsoft colored eight of them a different shade of green to represent the disputed Kashmiri territory. The difference in greens meant Kashmir was shown as non-Indian, and the product was promptly banned in India. Microsoft was left to recall all 200,000 copies of the offending Windows 95 operating system software to try and heal the diplomatic wounds. "It cost millions," Edwards said.

Another social blunder from Microsoft saw chanting of the Koran used as a soundtrack for a computer game and led to great offence to the Saudi Arabia government. The company later issued a new version of the game without the chanting, while keeping the previous editions in circulation because U.S. staff thought the slip wouldn't be spotted, but the Saudi government banned the game and demanded an apology. Microsoft then withdrew the game.

The software giant managed to further offend the Saudis by creating another game in which Muslim warriors turned churches into mosques. That game was also withdrawn.

Microsoft has also managed to upset women and entire countries. A Spanish-language version of Windows XP, destined for Latin American markets, asked users to select their gender between "not specified," "male" or "bitch," because of an unfortunate error in translation.

Microsoft has also seen its unfortunate style of diplomacy have an effect in Korea, Kurdistan, Uruguay and to China--where a cartographical dispute saw Chinese employees hauled in front of the government.

Edwards said that staff members are now sent on geography courses to try to avoid such mishaps. "Some of our employees, however bright they may be, have only a hazy idea about the rest of the world," he said.

Silicon.com's Jo Best reported from London.

Topics: Software

About

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

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