CNET News features an entertaining article on some of the creative ways that Microsoft has offended people around the world through cultural and linguistic blunders. These anecdotes come from a recent presentation by a Microsoft executive, who is probably now being reprimanded.
Here are two blunders from the article that are bound to be endlessly repeated by localization vendors and consultants (such as me) for years to come:
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.
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,” [Microsoft’s Tom] Edwards said.
In Microsoft’s defense, mistakes like these are endemic to most companies. Expanding into new markets always looks a great deal easier than it is.
If there is one lesson to be taken from Microsoft, it is that poorly managed localization is almost always more expensive in the end than no localization at all.
PS: Here’s another Microsoft anecdote from the Taipei Times:
One mistake that caused catastrophic offence was a game called Kakuto Chojin, a hand-to-hand fighting game. The fighting went on with rhythmic chanting in the background which in reviewing the game Edwards noticed appeared to be Arabic.
“I checked with an Arabic speaker in the company who was also a Muslim about what the chant meant and it was from the Koran. He went ballistic. It was an incredible insult to Islam,” Edwards said.
He asked for the game to be withdrawn but it was issued against his advice in the US in the belief that it would not be noticed.
Three months later, the Saudi Arabian government made a formal protest. Microsoft withdrew the game worldwide.