Kashmir blunder: Microsoft loses millions

By SI News Bureau   |   Monday, 23 August 2004, 19:30 IST
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LONDON: Microsoft's Kashmir blunder was one of a series of embarrassing mistakes which exposed the company's lack of political savvy and cost millions, owned up Tom Edwards, Microsoft's top man in its geographical strategy unit. Speaking at the International Geographical Union congress in Glasgow, Edwards revealed how one of the biggest companies in the world managed to offend one of the world's biggest countries 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. The product was naturally banned in India promptly. He said all 200,000 copies of the offending Windows 95 software had to be recalled to try and heal the diplomatic wounds. "It cost millions," Edwards said. Another social blunder from Microsoft saw chanting of the Quran 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. Edwards then recommended 75,000 copies of the game to be destroyed. It further offended the Saudi government by creating another game where Muslim warriors turned churches into mosques. This game was also withdrawn. Others offended by similar computer software diplomatic faux pas include Turkish governments, Chinese, Kurds and women in several Latin American 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. Edwards' confession was part of a presentation on why multinational corporations must become more geographically literate to win the trust of their customers. He said: "The geographical illiteracy of a lot of Americans is well known. When you take that illiteracy and put it into products that are distributed globally, the results can be very serious." Edwards said that staff are now sent on geography courses to try and 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. Edwards' unit claims one success when it prevented to release the company's Office XP software with a moon and stars astrology icon because it resembled the Islamic Hila symbol.