Politics Trumps Programming Every Time

This week, a <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/9bugo/sputilityhidetaiwan_a_special_method_that_hides/">Reddit post</a> pointed out an interesting Sharepoint feature that demonstrates what happens when politics and programming collide: the <a href="http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms441219.aspx">SPUtility.HideTaiwan method</a> is born.

Dave Methvin, Contributor

August 19, 2009

2 Min Read

This week, a Reddit post pointed out an interesting Sharepoint feature that demonstrates what happens when politics and programming collide: the SPUtility.HideTaiwan method is born.This isn't the first time that Windows software has been pulled into the morass of international politics. When it was first released, the Windows 95 timezone adjustment dialog showed country boundaries and highlighted the timezone you had chosen, even smooth-scrolling to the correct zone after you chose it from the select box. Or, you could click the map near the point where you were to set the time zone that way. If you check out the Windows XP time zone dialog today, though, you'll find that the map is still there but it does absolutely nothing. It displays neither time zones nor country boundaries.

That cool Windows time zone feature was neutered by political pressures. Disputed borders such as the one between India and Pakistan meant that Microsoft was going to anger at least one side in every political dispute. You and I might think that a tiny little map in a rarely used dialog is no big thing, but that is why we're not politicians. Instead, the politicos are inclined to ban Windows from being sold in the country, or even ban Microsoft from doing business in the country entirely.

If you're wondering what's different about the Taiwan calendar, it bases dates from the Wuchang Uprising of 1911 which Taiwan sees as the birth of its nation. No way that mainland China is going to acknowledge that. When Chinese officials "asked" that Microsoft not display the calendar used by that renegade government on the island of Taiwan, Microsoft was bound to comply. The company isn't about to anger China, but of course it still wants to sell Windows to Taiwan as well without taking sides. So, the Taiwan calendar is only hidden when the Windows locale is set to PeoplesRepublicofChina, HongKongSAR, or MacaoSAR. The rest of the world isn't affected.

Call me a picky programmer, but one thing that strikes me about the SPUtility.HideTaiwan method is that it seems to be horribly misnamed. Interfaces that return information, as opposed to changing the state of the system, usually start with verbs like "Get" or "Query". Or, they are actually properties of an object and named as nouns rather than verbs. This method is named as if it would actively hide something, but all it does is indicate whether the Taiwan calendar is hidden. I'd like to think this is a passive-aggressive move by Microsoft developers, something they did to protest the silliness of the whole thing.

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