Newsletter Archives

  • Who controls our tech?


    Susan Bradley

    By Susan Bradley

    The other day I spotted a USA Today article by Kim Komando about how to ensure Chinese tech wasn’t spying on you.

    She wrote: “Know that there are plenty of allegations that the companies below have government ties, but it’s up for debate how much the Chinese government is genuinely involved in operations. I’m sharing this to help you make more informed decisions on what you purchase and use daily.”

    I think her view is far too simplistic.

    Read the full story in our Plus Newsletter (20.13.0, 2023-03-27).

  • Microsoft announces extended Windows XP support in China — or has it?

    It’s all in the translation.

    InfoWorld Tech Watch

  • Internet Explorer takes unexpected jump in market share

    But do you know why?

    InfoWorld Tech Watch.

  • Microsoft’s marketing strategy in China is just plain stupid

    An open letter to Steve Ballmer…

    Dear Mr. Ballmer:

    Late last week you spoke to Microsoft employees in Beijing about the effect of software piracy on Microsoft revenues.

    China is about to overtake the US in the total number of PCs sold. But, according to the Wall Street Journal, you said, “our revenue in China will be about a twentieth of our revenue in the United States… I’m not saying everybody in China could afford to buy a PC… but if you can, you could afford the software.” 5% of US sales translates into $2 billion a year or so in Chinese sales. The missing 95% presumably got swallowed by the Chinese pirating dragon.

    Many people in China – indeed, many people throughout Asia – listened to your words, Steve, but heard a recounting of the old Chinese parable about the emperor who, being told that his subjects didn’t have enough rice to eat, replied, “Why don’t they eat meat?”

    Here’s what you don’t understand, Steve. Microsoft’s approach to the Chinese market is utterly wrong, and doomed to failure.

    Prodding Asian markets with bluster about “The Law,” jackbooted Software Police, and threats of lawsuits and imprisonment won’t get you or Microsoft anywhere. Many Chinese ‘Softies who praise your actions in public are embarrassed in private. Many Chinese officials who nod their heads and run your raids would much rather find a decent, honorable way to make a living. Like many big foreign companies in China, Microsoft is tolerated, but only barely. The good things your company brings are appreciated – jobs, new technologies, an opportunity for learning and advancement. But all of this gibberish about “if you can afford a PC you should pay Microsoft for the privelege” is so much foreign, alien, condescending hokum.

    Steve, permit me to introduce you to someone you should get to know. His name’s Andrew McBean. You may recognize the name. Andrew used to work for you: he was Microsoft’s Managing Director in Thailand from 2003 to 2007. I don’t know Andrew – never spoken to him – but I watched what he did in Thailand, and came away impressed. Andrew knows how to do business in Asia. Microsoft could learn a lot from his example.

    Back in 2003, the Thai government announced a plan to finance low-cost PCs for working class families. The government wrangled with several PC manufacturers and came up with designs for functional PCs that would sell for $250 to $450. With government-backed financing, that was a price working families could afford. The main sticking point? That price didn’t include an operating system or any applications. The government initially decided to ship the PCs with a Linux variant, fully expecting customers to install pirate copies of Windows and Office the minute the machines got out of the box.

    McBean fought hard and finally convinced Microsoft to bundle Windows XP Home Edition with Office XP Standard Edition, and ship the pair pre-installed on these government sponsored PCs for the princely sum of $35. It was a revolutionary approach, and it worked. The project itself didn’t fare all that well – supply and distribution problems, and other woes. But Microsoft showed it was willing and able to step up to the plate and fend off piracy by competing mano-a-mano in a tough consumer market.

    That’s what Microsoft is missing in China, Steve. In most of the world, Microsoft can argue – rightfully – about the superiority of legal software, the inherent unfairness in big-business pirating, the legal consequences of getting caught with “ungenuine” Windows and Office. But in many parts of the world – most definitely in most of Asia – that marketing approach just doesn’t work. Individuals and organizations see that pirated software works; the best cracks even fool Microsoft’s genuine checkers. Many people don’t understand how supporting $2 billion-in-China-sales Microsoft brings any benefits to them at all. And legal consequences are very different in other parts of the world: just ask the people who worked with NGOs in Russia that were targeted for Microsoft software piracy raids in retaliation for their political views.

    Microsoft looks at pirate copies of Windows and Office as being inherently bad: by educating customers and enforcing intellectual property laws, the reasoning goes, Microsoft should be able to reclaim more of that 95% being swallowed by the piracy dragon.

    As far as I’m concerned, that’s just not the right way to tackle the problem. Microsoft needs to look at pirate copies of Windows and Office as being “the competition.” The ‘Softies would get a lot more traction in their potentially-largest-market if they’d get down ‘n dirty, just like McBean did in Thailand, and offer competitive products with compelling advantages.

    An example. Anybody in the States can walk into a mass merchandiser or hop onto Amazon and buy three licenses of Windows 7 Home Premium for about $120. At $40 apiece that’s, oh, roughly the price of a good-but-not-lavish dinner and a movie. For a programmer with a college degree, that’s, say, 1% of their $4,000 monthly salary.

    In Asia, the cheapest “genuine” Windows 7 Home Premium sells for about $110 – the price for a single-license OEM version, which may or may not be completely legal on a new PC, depending on the country. That’s about twenty times as much as a good-but-not-lavish dinner and a movie. For a programmer with a college degree, that’s about 30% to 40% of their monthly salary.

    There’s just no comparison. Not even close.

    If Microsoft were willing to get competitive in Asia, it could shave 25% off the current best price of Windows 7 Home Premium in the West, and there’d be a real contest: genuine Win7 Home Premium for $30, vs. a pirate version for $2. Microsoft might actually start selling software at that rate.

    Windows 7 Home Basic – the hobbled version of Win7 available pre-installed on new PCs sold in “emerging markets” including China – isn’t a competitor. It’s an insult. An invitation to piracy.

    As things stand, Microsoft’s only compelling sales tactic is the threat of legal action. Microsoft’s only significant customers in China – indeed, in much of Asia – are international firms that won’t tolerate pirate software. That said, many international firms are shocked to see the results of software audits in their Asian operating units. The claim “everybody out here does it” may not sit well with IT management, but it’s not far from the truth.

    Steve, your comment, “I’m not saying everybody in China could afford to buy a PC… but if you can, you could afford the software” belies both a fabulous arrogance, and a complete lack of Asian marketing savvy. To borrow BillG’s favorite multi-purpose phrase, it’s stupid.

    The incremental cost of creating a new shrinkwrapped box of Windows 7 runs less than a dollar. (Tellingly, the box is probably made in China.) Microsoft has to decide if it wants to compete in Asian markets, or if it’ll insist on applying its phenomenal profit margins, uniformly, all over the globe.

    I suggest you ask Andrew what he would do.

  • Adobe Flash 0day shows a Chinese connection

    Could the new Flash 0day be yet another product of the rumored Chinese government spearphishing factory? Hard to say. Here’s the facts, in my InfoWorld Tech Watch posting.

  • Google’s burning Chinese bridges

    Five days ago, I reported that Google was (finally!) getting some cojones dealing with China.

    Now, I’m very, very happy to say that the Googlies have stopped dancing with the devil. They’re re-directing the address – that’s the Google address used inside China – to That’s the Hong Kong version of the Google search engine.

    You can see for yourself. Go ahead and type into your favorite web browser.

    At this point, the Chinese government authorities are not blocking access to So folks inside China who thought they were going to the censored are being automatically routed to an uncensored version of Google, in various Chinese languages.

    The New York Times has a good overview.

    UPDATE: Looks like the PRC authorities have started filtering search results from the Hong Kong site. Washington Post article here. This is getting more interesting by the minute.

  • Is Google getting cojones in China?

    News from MSNBC that Google is finally showing some previously-blocked pictures in response to searches on

    A week ago, the Financial Times reported that Google wass “99.9% certain” to close down its censored Chinese search engine.  Now, it appears as if the engine is still chugging along, with some of the old censorship gone.

    It’s refreshing to see pictures of the “tank man” at Tiananmen Square, and a tiny trickle of information about Tibet, coming from the censored version of Google.

    In response, Google’s stock took a hit, but it’s coming back. Good on ya, Google.

  • Google starts to get its China, uh, stuff together

    As a long-time Tibetan human rights supporter, it pleases me no end that Google seems to be having a change of heart.

    Google lawyer David Drummond just posted this on the Official Google Blog:

    In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google… we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists… we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users’ computers…

    These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.

    Maybe I can go back to believing in Google’s original vision.

  • Internet will out – even in China

    I just bumped into a fascinating story about normal people thumbing their noses at an oppresive government, censorship, and futility, all rolled up in a tale about the grass-mud horse.

    (As a long-time supporter of Tibetan causes, the story couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.)

    Check out Michael Wines’ A Dirty Pun Tweaks China’s Online Censors in the New York Times.