Microsoft’s in trouble again, but this time it’s for a more serious alleged infraction than using other people’s fonts without permission. Today, the software megalith stands accused of pirating an entire program. The software giant is used to being a victim here in China. It has been struggling for years to have its intellectual property rights respected in the mainland, but has been frustrated by hackers duplicating and distributing its software for cheap or even for free among China’s 360 million computer users. Thus was ironic when the company’s Windows operating software was banned from shelves over the use of the four fonts. The price of Windows software has even been halved in China in order to encourage legal purchases.
But sympathy for the company may be wearing thin after sources in Taiwan revealed that Microsoft’s new microblogging service, MSN Juku, is suspiciously similar (read: almost identical) to Canada-based startup Plurk’s interface. “Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but blatant theft of code, design, and UI elements is just not cool, especially when the infringing party is the biggest software company in the world,” Plurk said in a blog post. Microsoft only intended to release Juku in the Chinese market where Plurk and similar services such as Twitter and Facebook are currently blocked. Perhaps Microsoft China thought no one would find out, but unfortunately Plurk is quite popular in Taiwan and cross-strait relations are closer than they’ve been in decades.
Still, even if Plurk is right about Microsoft, Plurk’s code isn’t that creative either. As observers elsewhere point out, the service borrows heavily from Twitter. Regardless, we can expect more news on this in a future. A Microsoft spokesperson in the US said the company would investigate the allegations that it copied and then tweaked Plurk’s code. If it did, it may be an indication that the American company is finally learning how to play the game in the Chinese market: Market the best idea out there, even if it’s not your own.