Windows Vista sinks into Chinese roots

Microsoft says it spared no effort to ensure its customers in China are happy with the new operating system, which will include support for Chinese minority languages.

As the world awaits the arrival of Windows Vista, Microsoft's technology center in China has been working to ensure the new operating system (OS) meets the needs of the world's most populous country.

"Windows Vista has over 2,700 new features compared to Windows XP," Yi Fan, manager of local Windows group at Microsoft's China Technology Center (CTC) said in an interview with ZDNet Asia. "Among them, there are 80 features built specifically for the Greater China region, which includes China, Taiwan and Hong Kong."

Established in Beijing since 2003, Microsoft's CTC aims to boost the development and growth of China's computing ecosystem with the vendor's technology. The center provides support for local partners and governments as they develop competitive software and hardware products in the global market.

According to Fan, the software giant has committed US$25 million over five years to the CTC since its debut.

Among the new features localized for Chinese users are: support for China's minority languages or dialects, as well as local domain names based on Chinese characters.

Fan said: "In China, there are 55 minority nationalities including Tibetans, Mongolians and Uygurs, who live in regions which are less developed than major cities in China.

"Language is the number one barrier that's preventing these groups from using technology," he added, noting that it was necessary to develop minority language support in Windows Vista to bridge this digital divide.

In addition, Fan said, the user interface of the Chinese IME (input method editor) software--used to input Chinese characters in Windows--remained largely unchanged for the last 10 years. In Windows Vista, the IME has been modified to enhance user experience with a new look and feel, he said.

Apart from additional language support, Fan said users of China's version of Windows Vista will also be able to browse sites using Chinese language domain names.

"For example, if you type Tsinghua University in Chinese characters within Windows Vista, you will be able to access the university's Web site," he explained. "That makes things easy for Chinese speakers."

According to China's People's Daily newspaper, the country's Internet users topped 100 million this year. There are also 1.09 million Web sites with country's top-level ".cn" domain name.

To ensure Microsoft's partners are ready to deliver products that work with Windows Vista, Fan said the CTC has been actively engaging hardware and software vendors in China. For instance, the center worked closely with Chinese PC maker Lenovo to ensure its products are compatible with Windows Vista, he revealed.

In terms of software support, Fan said some 400 applications have been certified to work on Windows Vista globally. However, he was unable to reveal how many China-made applications have been tested so far.

Although the CTC was tasked with localizing Windows Vista for Chinese users, Fan said the center has also contributed to the overall development of the OS, specifically in some aspects of the Windows kernel--the heart of the OS.

The CTC was also involved in customizing Windows XP for Chinese users, which included efforts in building desktop management tools, as well as software packs that let users change the look and feel of their desktops.

Despite changes made to Windows Vista as a result of antitrust concerns in Europe and South Korea, Microsoft has said the new OS is on target for a global release to enterprises this November and consumers in January next year.