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Microsoft in Israel and Russia
from TBTF for 1998-01-19
and    1998-01-26

I've had three thoughtful responses to EM Ganin's article on Microsoft's Hebrew versions of its software, published in TBTF for 1998-01-19 [1] and reproduced below.

EM Ganin, USA

I just returned from a family visit to Israel. As I traveled around visiting friends and relatives, I found that nearly every one of them is running Windows 95 on their home com- puters. In earlier visits, I had found most people using DOS and very few people running any windowed OS (Mac or earlier versions of Windows). Microsoft has clearly won the Israeli market. They did this partly by bundling components into the OS, but also by doing an excellent job adapting to the language needs of the market.

I was initially surprised at how effectively Microsoft translated every single English-language text item into Hebrew. The menus, icons, and dialog boxes all look the same as the US version, yet the text is correctly translated into Hebrew and formatted for right-to-left display.

I also saw a Russian version of Windows 95 that seemed as comprehensively translated as the Hebrew version (I don't read Russian, so this is just an impression).

All of the common Microsoft applications were similarly translated -- in particular, the components of MS-Office and Internet Explorer. When working on the Internet, URLs still appear in English (even for Israeli sites with all-Hebrew content). The only time I saw English text appear from the OS was when the system crashed.

Microsoft Office is not automatically bundled in with the OS, yet it is very widely used. I heard (but did not verify) that MS-Word is the #1 word processor used in the country. Even if MS-IE were unbundled from the OS, I suspect that it would still remain as the dominant Web browser in this market.

At least for the Israeli market, I think that Microsoft earned its monopoly position by spending the time and resources to offer fully localized applications that easily integrate into the OS.

Gil Rimon, Israel

Haha, as we say in Israel. Ha-Ha-Ha.

Mr. Ganin has a point -- Windows is very popular here in Israel. However, a close examination of the market would have shown him that something like 50% of the software in Israel is pirated, and EWndows is the most popular theft. Before the Internet era Israel was called a "one disk country" and by most measures it should still be regarded as such. What Israelis do buy, in tons, are writable CD's. I'm not kidding -- this product is a best seller here.

All my friends use Microsoft Office; none of them ever bought the software. This phenomenon, which is nothing to be proud of, is striking not only private people but institutions, companies, and even the Israeli army. In my last reserve service, 6 months ago, I saw so many unregistered applications I couldn't stop laughing. I must admit I was quite happy with this. The Israeli branch of Microsoft gives the programmers here a very hard time.

It is true the BiDi issue [bidirectional text -- ed.] is troubling Microsoft, but it's for other reasons -- good solutions for it will lead to the Arab market. Israel, everybody should know, is a very big software producer and a very small software buyer.

As for the Windows95 Hebrew implementation, I believe it's not worth one Israeli Shekel. The Hebrew GUI crashes much more than the English one, and the BiDi implementation fails all the time. One small example: when an (unregistered) Israeli programmer tries to make a shortcut to his (unregistered) 4dos shell on his (unregistered) Hebrew Windows, he gets the label "dos4." No matter how hard he tries, it just doesn't work. Why? Nobody knows.

Oh, and another point. Israeli "Microsoft Solution Providers" often feel cheated -- they pay thousands of dollars to get a very bad service from the Israeli branch. In most cases the Microsoft support teams know less than the average programmer here about Windows generally and about BiDi issues specifically.

This message was written using Outlook Express with no Hebrew support at all. But I guess we should only blame ourselves for choosing such a strange language.

Alexander Gagin, Russia

Yes, I have to approve: the Russian version of Windows 95 is fully translated and the language doesn't "cut the ears." Microsoft has also translated all their other products, including Internet Explorer 4.0.

Microsoft is paying huge attention to the Russian market. As an example, the December issue of Internet magazine [2] (circulation 20,000) was distributed with the Russian ver- sion of MSIE 4.0 on CD-ROM. The newsstand price for that issue was unchanged at $2; the CD-ROM was paid for by Microsoft Russia [3] and two local ISPs, Cityline [4] and Glasnet [4]. This issue also included 5 free hours of connectivity from Cityline, which is one of the newest and most progressive Moscow providers, with a flat-rate price of $36.60.

In Russia MS Office is not just number one, it's the only one. It includes not only a Russian interface, but also dictionaries, hyphenation, thesaurus, syntax checking -- all the language-dependant features in the original version.

The piracy rate here is something like 95% -- anybody can freely buy a CD-ROM filled with stolen software (including MS products) at any shop on the street; the price is about $5.80. For this reason Microsoft has a harder time fighting Netscape: the MSIE "free" argument doesn't mean anything, since people usually don't think about price at all. But the high-quality Russification of MSIE is a very strong argu ment. Also, MS has made agreements for information channels with major Russian content providers.

Netscape is represented here by two or three persons. One of them, Pavel Krasyuk, told our magazine (for publication in the next issue) that they don't really pay a lot of atten- tion to browser competitition with Microsoft. Both companies sell server products and office software. The "browser war" is just an advertisement for both.

[1] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-01-19.html#s03
[2] http://inter.net.ru/
[3] http://www.microsoft.com/rus/
[4] http://www.cityline.ru/e_index.html
[5] http://www.glasnet.ru/

Anton Nossik, Russia

Please accept my deepest gratitude for TBTF, which is the finest technology mailing list I know. In my own Internet daily column (published in Russian) I've been recommending it to my readers, and judging by the feedback, they, too, have found the reading worth their time.

I would like to make a couple of remarks regarding your recent coverage of Microsoft policies in Russia.

First of all, Microsoft -- without really knowing or meaning it -- has conducted an extremely useful experiment that sheds light on Russian computer users' ways and patterns. The experiment clearly shows that Russian users prefer obsolete and buggy, but localized (i.e. Russian-interface), software to brand-new and more powerful International versions. In October-November 1997, when MSIE 4.0 was rendering the previous version extinct on a global scale (judging by data from Browserwatch [6] and other monitoring services), Russian users stuck to MSIE 3.0, which accounted for some 80% of Explorer copies in use in Russia until mid-December. There is only one explanation for this phenomenon: lack of a Russian version of MSIE 4.0. Once the Russian version came out, MSIE 4.0 started gaining ground over its precursor, and by today's figures it accounts for 46% of all MSIE versions on the Russian market.

A site [7] maintained by the Reklama.Ru ad network monitors Russian browser and OS usage in realtime, producing daily summaries. The explanations are in Russian, but OS and browser names and percentages are in Latin letters, and clearly legible.

Another observation deals with Microsoft and piracy issues in Russia.

You might remember the Mother Jones article [8] claiming that Microsoft strikes deals with pirates caught in Latin America, Australia, and Croatia, helping them to avoid persecution and turning copyright violators into legal distributors of its software.

I can't say much about the situation in Australia and Latin America, but in Russia pirates are Microsoft's best friends. Due to piracy,\ Microsoft's products are more widespread in Russia than in any other countries with lower levels of illegal software circulation. If it hasn't been for those "all in one" pirated CD-ROMs, Russian users who suffer from bad phone lines, poor bandwidth, and relatively low incomes could have never afforded many of the expensive MS bloatware they now use. Before the onset of CD-ROM piracy, the Russian software market was highly diverse, with OS/2 and UNIX holding substantial shares. Only piracy could change that situation -- and change it it did. Little wonder that not a single criminal indictment has been handed up in Russia against software pirates (charged under Art. 146 of Russia's Criminal Code). Instead, dozens of firms caught spreading illegal copies of MS software have turned official distributors of Microsoft products since they were caught. Out of 56 criminal cases against pirates opened in Russia in 1997, half were closed with no indictment during the same year, and the rest will close soon with much the same result. Not because BSA can't influence the process, but rather because its influence serves quite the opposite ends from what it preaches.

One might argue that Microsoft gains no evident profit from pirated copies of its products. But in reality, the entire Russian software market (including local developers) is Microsoft-oriented and strongly Microsoft dependent. When a Russian government official considers a software purchase, he can think of only one brand name to buy. The name he sees on his own home PC's screen, every time he starts his pirated copy of Windows 95 or Office 97. Were he obliged to buy legally all the software he uses at home, the names could have been "Linux" and "EMACS" (sold in any computer shop in Moscow for a fraction of what Windows 95 or MS Office costs off the same shelves). But pirates do not carry these titles. Neither do Russian government offices and large corporate intranets.

With best regards --
Dr. Anton Nossik, Editor
Evening Internet Daily in Russian (since 1996)

[6] http://www.browserwatch.internet.com/
[7] http://www.design.ru/free/browsers/
[8] http://www.motherjones.com/mother_jones/JF98/burstein.html

[ TBTF for 1998-01-19 ]