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Microsoft Halts Sales of Chinese Windows 95

September 28, 1996|RONE TEMPEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BEIJING — In a setback to its international operations, Microsoft Corp. has halted sales of its newest Chinese-language operating system across China after the government objected to anti-Communist slogans in some of the software, company executives confirmed Friday.

The announcement came after raids by police on several computer software stores in Beijing earlier in the week. The police confiscated Windows 95 installation kits containing phrases--common in Nationalist Chinese propaganda--that describe the Chinese leadership as "Communist bandits."

Microsoft executives said they are still investigating how the phrases made it into the version of Windows 95 marketed in mainland China, which is still governed by the Communist Party. Beginning today, Microsoft said, it will offer an upgrade on the Internet that will delete language described by Microsoft China President Duh Jia-Bin as "culturally inappropriate."

"The problem involves only a handful of 70,000 phrases in the software," said Bryan Nelson, Microsoft's managing director for China, who is based in Hong Kong. Nelson said teams of Microsoft engineers isolated the problem to two traditional Chinese character programs in the Windows 95 system.

Experts speculated that the controversial language, including phrases calling on the Nationalist regime of Taiwan to "take back the mainland," was contained in programs provided by Taiwanese contractors with Microsoft.

Before it was launched in March, the Chinese version of the operating system was tested for several months by more than 100,000 mainland Chinese. However, the controversial language was not discovered until the software reached Chinese users living in the United States.

To eliminate the problem, Microsoft engineers working for the past seven days in China and the United States have created a program to delete the traditional character sections of the operating system. Later this month, diskettes will be distributed free to stores offering the Chinese-language version of Windows 95.

Clerks at Federal Software Store in the Chinese capital, near Beijing University, said they first learned of the problem last Saturday when police descended on their store and confiscated all copies of Windows 95.

"We were asked to stop selling the Chinese version of Windows 95 several days ago," said a clerk at Beijing's Legend Department Store. "They told us there were political problems and that we would get new diskettes in two to three months."

Microsoft declined to comment on the financial effects of the sales stoppage. "I can only say that Windows 95 has been the best-selling operating system in China," Nelson said.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company also declined to say how many people and companies would be affected by what amounts to a recall of a major Microsoft product. However, when the Chinese version of Windows 95 was launched, company executives said they expected the operating system to be installed in at least 700,000 new computers sold in China in 1996.

The Chinese Windows controversy is the latest in a series for Microsoft involving its new operating system in foreign locales.

In July, Microsoft apologized to Mexicans for "grave errors" in its Spanish-language version that identified Indians in Mexico as "savages" and "man-eaters."

In August, release of the new Windows system was delayed in India because the government objected to maps showing the disputed state of Kashmir as part of archrival Pakistan.

"One of the problems in providing worldwide systems," Nelson said, "is that there are always differences in point of view about such things as borders."

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