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Microsoft's Mac Hebrew snub prompts Israeli AntiTrust complaint

The fix wouldn't cost a shekel

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Microsoft's refusal to provide Hebrew support in its Macintosh Internet Explorer browser or Office suite has prompted a complaint to Israel's antitrust department.

It's a fascinating story which raises as many cultural questions as does it does political - all the more so, as we discovered last week, since neither Apple nor Microsoft want to confront the issue.

Hebrew writers have long complained that Microsoft Office for the Mac doesn't support the script: even though it's drawn from the Windows codebase which does support Hebrew, and many other right-to-left scripts to boot. The lack of support wasn't fixed in Office 2001:mac, and despite rich language support for developers in Apple's Mac OS X, Microsoft says it has no plans to add Hebrew to Office v.X:mac.

Even though it wouldn't cost Microsoft a cent, says Dov Cohen, a law student who formed the National Academic Macintosh Administrators group to lobby for Hebrew support in Microsoft products.

Cohen says that the CEO of Apple's Israeli representative Yeda offered to underwrite the localization work, pay 1million shekels, and assure a pre-order of 2,000 copies from Apple France - but Microsoft Israel declined. (Yeda and Apple France didn't return our request for confirmation).

"What's the problem?" asks Cohen. "Microsoft Israel tried giving numerous excuses, such as it being unprofitable, or that they lack the knowledge. But that can't be it, since it's not going to cost them a nickle, and Yeda will hire Macintosh Developers for them that'll do the job - so what's the catch ?"

"Can anyone explain why IE:mac and Outlook Express:mac support Zulu and Portugeuse but not Russian or Hebrew?"

Or incredibly, Arabic and Korean too.

This represents a serious barrier to consumer adoption of the Macintosh in Israel, argues Cohen, who composed a ten-page letter to complaint to Israel's antitrust department which was signed by hundreds of academics. He's still waiting for a reply.

In the US Antitrust case, the appeals case upheld the finding that Microsoft was found guilty of abusing its monopoly power by tying further development of Office for the Macintosh to Apple's adoption of Internet Explorer as the default Mac browser.

Under Israeli antitrust law, Cohen points out, violations are considered criminal felonies, and apply to any company with 50 per cent market share. Tying is illegal, as is unreasonably refusing a service.

The US has this agreement with Israel on antitrust issues.

We couldn't get through to a member of Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit, with The Beast's PR Waggener Edstrom doing its job of denying access. A Wagg-Ed rep said that if there was a business case for it, there'd be a Hebrew version of Mac Office. And she helpfully pointed out the Korean example unprompted.

We'd love to know what Microsoft's MBU really thinks of the situation - from our experience, these guys do care about what they do, although it's frequently a thankless task. And from experience too, we know that Microsoft staff are as frustrated at being obscured behind Wagg-Ed's iron skirt as we are here on the outside.

" If there is a good reason they will go and develop a good version," said Wagg-Ed.

Had there been a communications breakdown?

"I don't know if that's the case."

We asked Apple Cupertino if they were pushing for better localization in Microsoft products, but they referred us back to Microsoft, and declined to comment.

So there we have it.

It's a reminder of how much market power a monopolist holds in shaping a culture. Microsoft's Hebrew support in Windows is considered excellent - and there's no question that they'd be endangering the cultural heritage by refusing to support Hebrew on the Mac. But it does ensure Hebrew speakers buy Windows. That's thing about globalization - every part of the world ends up looking the same … or at least, using the same system software.

One world, and one OS to type on? ®

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