Microsoft’s kimchi problem

Microsoft’s success in the U.S. market is uncanny and ongoing. But in countries on opposite sides of the world, things sometimes go wrong for the wizards of Redmond. Brazilian authorities have announced plans to convert five federal government ministries from Windows to mandatory use of open-source software. In Beijing, representatives of the Chinese, Japanese and Korean governments have been meeting to hash out a joint plan to promote the usage of Linux. And in Europe, the competition authorities handed down a monopoly ruling and fine that cut deeply into Microsoft’s global earnings. This may seem out of character for Microsoft, a company known for its unerring command of strategy. Or perhaps coincidental. But it may be typical. Consider the telling blunder Microsoft made in the Korean software market in the summer of 1998. That summer, in the face of determined local competition, Microsoft was struggling with a minority market share. Then the company’s strategists hit on a bold plan. The Korean software firm that dominated the local word processing market was bleeding cash. Because of rampant software piracy, many Koreans were using the company’s software, but few were paying for it. Cash-rich Microsoft negotiated a deal in which the Korean company would discontinue producing its software in return for a bailout from Microsoft — leaving the word-processing market open for domination by Microsoft Word. An aggressive strategy. But what Microsoft failed to understand is that there is something unique about the Korean written language. Most alphabets have evolved organically over the centuries and aren’t related to national boundaries. (The letters A through Z are used, with some modification, to...

Holding China Together: a Review

In their new book Holding China Together (Cambridge, 2004), Barry Naughton and Dali Yang assemble a formidable team of specialists to peer into the black box of Chinese politics. Herewith a review and the implications for China’s future. “Municipal officials in Guangdong Province were informed that (to save farmland lost to burial plots) the proportion of cadavers cremated would be designated a Key Performance Indicator and tied to compensation.” –Holding China Together, page 24. William Greider called China a “black box” in which one can find ample proof for just about any expectation. To see the truth in this look no further than the recent China literature, divided into two opposing and indeed contradictory camps. On the one side are books like William Overholt’s The Rise of China or Ross Terrill’s The New Chinese Empire. In such books China is a coming political and economic superpower – indeed, the main threat to US global dominance and perhaps even US security. On the other side is Gordan Chang’s The Coming Collapse of China. And academic works such as The Chinese Economy in Crisis and China Deconstructs. In this alternate universe, the “China threat” comes not from the country’s rising military power, but from the likelihood of an Indonesia-style meltdown or unmanageable political disintegration. In a new book, Holding China Together, Barry Naughton and Dali Yang open the lid on the black box of Chinese politics. The result is sometimes dull – an endless barrage of statistics and detail. But, in contrast to the hysteria of China forecasts made via anecdote, this book reveals the hidden mechanisms by which Chinese politics...

Forecasting the United States Election

The American Political Science Association, meeting in Chicago, assembled six of the world’s top scholars in the field of electoral studies to forecast the US presidential election. Their verdict? Bush, probably. The Panelists: Helmut Norpoth (SUNY Stony Brook) Brad Lockerbie (Univ. of Georgia) Thomas Holbrook (UW Milwaukee) Christopher Wlezien (Oxford) with Robert Erikson (Columbia) Alan Abramowitz (Emory) Michael Lewis-Beck (Univ. of Iowa) with Charles Tien (CUNY Hunter) Moderator: James Campbell (SUNY Buffalo) “This will not be a ‘girly man’ forecast,” says the moderator. And it isn’t. Helmut Norpoth towers over the podium, grips the edges with meaty hands, the microphone reaching only just above his navel. “Bush wins with 54.7 percent of the popular vote,” he thunders, in a distinct German accent. This being academia, bold forecasts, and even accurate forecasts, aren’t all that matters. Norpoth is certainly bold. He made his forecast back in January and hasn’t changed it. Bold, but is it justified? All the panelists make their predictions based on statistical models of voting behavior, back-tested on data from previous elections. But not just any data. If blue-eyed candidates always beat candidates from Texas, that won’t cut it. There must be a sound theoretical basis for each model’s explanation of why Americans vote the way they do. “The best way to predict an election is with an election,” Norpoth says, defending his approach. Most of the models include some measure of the economy – reflecting, loosely, the idea that people vote their pocketbooks. (“It’s the economy, stupid.”) Norpoth’s model is based mostly on a sophisticated reading of the New Hampshire primary results. Which is why he...