Sometimes, tech companies cannot take sides

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/12/17 15:01 -05:00, original URI:

It is easy to have an opinion on an issue.

In fact, it is not only easy, it is pretty much an automatic that you will have an opinion on an issue if you understand any part of it (or even worse when you don't!).

But big companies have to be careful about the opinions that they have, because people (for better or worse) use that information to prove that they are right.

I mean, how easy would it be to claim that your opinion on Taiwan, or Macedonia, or Kashmir, or Pakistan was the right opinion, and cite as one of the many proofs that Windows does things a particular way that establishes the point? Entirely too easy, and it has definitely happened

Funny, I thought I was doing software, not politics!

We walk a fine line, try to avoid stepping in it, and hope that the software offering can be acceptable to everyone.

Now I'm not naive enough to believe that we are bringing people together (though there are many people in this business who are, who think of themselves as ministers of peace by giving people shared platforms!).

But I and many others in this business working in globalization are just cynical enough to realize that when we do our jobs correctly, we make it a little bit easier for people to live with their differences, to agree to disagree since no one had to lose the argument on the Windows "battlefield". This is everywhere, from the time zone map to the locale list and the language list in Regional Options to the date formats.

Ignoring for a moment the "selling software" issue, when I look at situations such as those in Taiwan or Macedionia, I can read both arguments -- the ones that focus on how things have been for thousands of years and the ones that focus on how things are now. The rhetoric that proves one point of view or the other. It never reads as an unreasonable view point if you came to it without an opinion, because it is entirely possible and in many cases probable to hav two entirely reasonable but also entirely conflicting viewpoints. A simple web search can find entire sites devoted to different points of view -- and plenty of it is careful and well-reasoned.

Who is served by Windows, or Microsoft, or indeed any company making one side lose face, or look bad in the eyes of the other? Why make anyone unhappy just to prove a point that was not our point anyway, but theirs?

Perhaps a random Linux distro can use ROC dates to be an apple in Taiwan's eye while being a villian banned in China, since that particular distro was not going to sell to China anyway. But Windows has to ship both places and we honestly do not want to offnd anyone, so we have to be acceptable in both markets. And so on down the line in all of the different places where people have opinions. Rather than focusing on how one person's side is "proven" we try to show how both sides can avoid rejecting the platform.

Is that a strength of Linux? I don't think so. I am sure some others disagree, but from a technical point of view I'd rather solve the technical issue and allow it to work everywhere than take sides in the software.

Does that make us cowardly? Perhaps. But choosing sides means choosing the market that will accept you and the one that will reject you. And why would any software company want to engineer limits into their plans?


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# Nick Lamb on 18 Dec 2005 9:06 AM:

Microsoft does take sides, against their users. Which I personally would consider cowardly. A company that cared about users (not just stockholders, not just "customers" in the abstract corporate sense) would have worked to deliver what users wanted. Ask anyone who had the misfortune to try to watch a foreign DVD with their Microsoft software. Analysts have predicted that Vista will help tighten the grip of groups like the DVD CCA further, and Raymond Chen's recent post if anything confirms that.

It's sometimes impossible not to take a side, for example the decision from both Windows and Unix developers to embrace Unicode to the exclusion of further work on other character sets, is taking sides. It's presumably offensive to any Japanese who feel Han unification is an example of cultural imperialism. It doesn't matter that you and I think they're wrong, they're offended anyway. On the other hand, for the Chinese problem, Unicode is heaven-sent. Unifications instigated by either government would never have been accepted, but imposed by outside, and with the assurance that distinct simplified and traditional characters would both be preserved, Unicode is a successful solution.

Now Japanese technical types who feel very strongly about this issue can't do anything about Windows. But with say, Red Hat Linux, they're permitted to go through the whole system's source code, replacing Unicode, changing fonts, removing conversion routines and anything else they don't like and then sell it with their own branding (Red Hat's is, of course, trademarked). The lack of such distributions on the market could mean many things, most likely is the one you've mentioned before in the context of Microsoft's unfortunate handling of U+005C, they're unhappy but resigned.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 18 Dec 2005 9:28 AM:

I am not going to comment on the DVD issue since it is really outside of my area (though if you read Raymond's post it is not even an issue for actual customers so I am not sure what it has to do with anything in this post?).

I am actually talking in this post about something else entirely -- I am talking about political issues that have nothing to do with computers other than the representation of date formats or calendars or language names or country/region distinctions or borders. These are issues that sit far outside of computers in their genesis, but obviously must be represented on computers at some point....

And that is where Microsoft has to avoid taking sides when it can.

For the issue on character sets specifically, it is obviously not what this post is about, though with that said you certainly have one opinion, Nick (though I wonder if you speak Japanese -- or is this an example of having an opinion without having a basis other than reading rhetoric? <grin>). But with these other character sets, one cannot handle all languages -- in fact, unless one is using English, one is unable to fully represent their language.

In such an environment, it is hard for anyone to claim the need to support a scheme that hurts support of their language. But even if we take people on their face value on this point, this has more to do with customers WITHIN a language group fighting between each other over what they want (and the one time when Microsoft obviously cannot make everyone in a language happy is when people within a lasnguge disagree on the best way to represent their language).

As for Unicode and Japan, ISO 10646 has the Japanese national body as a member, and although Han unification is controversial, in the end is was agreed upon.

As for why Linux developers do not dump Unicode, I would suggest the principal reason is that they are not willing to dump support of the world in favor of a single language. But perhaps they have other reasons (like the lack of expertise on typography and other related issues that would have be solved for a brand new methodology).

JIS is at this point behind Unicode, and if the standards setting body supports Unicode then what leg do users who support JIS hasvae to stand on?

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referenced by

2011/06/08 Wait til you see my Õ (Ō), Latvian edition

2011/01/22 About the Y1C problem, which really isn't too much of a problem (except maybe in North Korea)...

2010/08/28 And here comes Macedonian!

2010/03/26 Yes, Ivo^H^H^HVirginia, there is a zh-HK *and* a zh-TW

2009/05/26 The Whey doesn't get a locale, either

2007/03/12 Ask 'em if their language is Montenegrin; their answer may surprise you

2006/11/06 Who owns English, exactly?

2006/02/05 Keyboards: Monolingual or Multilingual?

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