Causing offence costs Microsoft millions

Political blunders have led to some of the software giant's products being banned in key markets
Written by Jo Best, Contributor
Microsoft's lack of political savvy has cost the Redmond behemoth millions and seen its products banned in some of the biggest markets on earth - and it's all because of eight wrongly coloured pixels, dodgy choice of music and a bad English-to-Spanish dictionary.

Speaking at the International Geographical Union congress in Glasgow Tom Edwards, Microsoft's top man in its Geopolitical Product Strategy team, 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 colouring in 800,000 pixels on a map of India, Microsoft coloured 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. Redmond was left to recall all 200,000 copies of the offending Windows 95 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 caused great offence to the Saudi Arabia government. Microsoft later issued a new version of the game without the chanting, while keeping the previous versions in circulation because US staff thought the slip wouldn't be spotted, but the Saudi government banned the game and demanded an official apology. Microsoft then withdrew the game.

It managed to further offend the Saudis by creating another game where Muslim warriors turned churches into mosques. The game was also withdrawn.

Microsoft has also managed offend women as well as entire countries. A Spanish language version of Windows XP, destined for Latin American markets, gave users an option to select their gender from not specified, male or "bitch", due to an unfortunate error in translation.

Microsoft has also taken its Prince Philip style of diplomacy to Korea, Kurdistan, Uruguay and to China -- where a cartographical dispute saw Chinese employees hauled in front of the government.

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

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