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XBox Live and Zune Globalization Issues

wp7-xbl-hands-2010-08-1611-01-22-rm-eng[1]In my previous post, we discussed the issues Microsoft faces in globalizing its Windows Phone 7 “Metro” user experience.
Alas, the globalization of the user experience itself is only part of the story.

An important and particularly compelling part of the Windows Phone user experience are the services Microsoft includes within Windows Phone 7:



  • XBox Live (online gaming and entertainment)
  • Zune (music and video subscriptions & purchases)
  • Windows Phone Marketplace (try and buy applications for Windows Phone)


These services are key differentiators for Windows Phone 7 users - especially XBox Live and Zune - but they bring with them several issues:

Content Distribution Rights

Key among the issues that Microsoft faces are they legalities affecting Microsoft’s ability to offer content (music, games and videos) from various 3rd party content owners (i.e. TV & movie publishers, music labels, games publishers, etc.) to people in different parts of the world.

Make no mistake – this is a minefield.

For example, like Apple’s iTunes service, Microsoft’s Zune music service allows you to buy tracks and albums that you can listen to on your phone, PC, etc.

However, unlike Apple’s iTunes, Microsoft’s Zune allows you to pay a flat fee per month ($15 here in the US) for the right to download and enjoy as much music as you like.

As a Zune customer of many years, I cannot even begin to express just how extraordinarily compelling subscription music is! Not only does this save me AT LEAST $50-$70 per year (vs. the number of CD’s I used to purchase), I am free to explore a MUCH wider spectrum of music than I was able to afford before.

Not only is this a compelling service, but for my $15 per month, I also get to download up to 10 (ten) tracks per month DRM-free for me to keep. Therefore, I pay the equivalent of one CD per month and get to keep a CD’s worth of music from whichever band/album I like, AND I get to listen to as many other albums I want as well.

What’s not to like? Winking smile

BUT … and this is a big but … The content owners get to decide what content they want to offer for subscription and where in the world Microsoft is permitted to rent their content.

Censorship shmenshorship!

Oh … and let’s not forget the issues of content censorship.

In some parts of the world, freedom is something granted by the state (government, ruler, ruling party, etc.). In many parts of the world, consumers choice is constrained by censorship rules defined by the state. Music containing profanity or expressing views the state disagrees with are banned or dubbed. Movies containing non-approved subject-matter, imagery, scenes or dialog are often edited, dubbed or banned. Games that are deemed too violent are only to be sold to users over a certain age (different ages in different countries) or banned outright.

And these rules and regulations change. Frequently.

Remaining compliant with the laws, rules and regulations of each country in which one operates content delivery services such as Zune and XBox Live is a major headache. And this headache is compounded by the issues of content distribution rights discussed above.

Pity the lawyers (yes … seriously!)

One can only imagine the analysis, planning and negotiations that must ensue to allow Microsoft to deployment Zune XBox Live internationally. Armies of lawyers working with legions of program & project managers, developers, testers, translators and other specialists must be employed to work-through these issues. And these are not simple issues to solve.

Considering the above (and my previous post on globalizing Metro), one can understand, if not accept, why Microsoft had to choose to selectively roll-out its services for Windows Phone 7.

If you’re a fan of what Microsoft is building, it sucks to be in a not-currently-supported part of the world, but I am certain that if the market is sufficient in size and the economies work-out, Microsoft will eventually roll out the online services for Windows Phone (and Windows itself) in your region of the world.

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Windows Phone 7 Metro Globalization Challenges

imageEngadget has just posted a piece on how Microsoft is “only” releasing Windows Phone 7 in five languages and how they’re omitting and/or limiting XBox Live, Zune and Windows Phone Marketplace for other languages (at least for now).

I’ll discuss the challenges Microsoft faces with the global rollout of its XBox Live and Zune services for Windows Phone 7 in a later post.

In this post I’ll discuss the challenges of globalizing the Windows Phone 7 user experience:

Global Text layout 101

Most printed text today is flowed horizontally across the page/screen, from top to bottom.

This is true for most Alphabetical writing systems such as Latin-based languages (e.g. English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek) where text is read left to right, from top to bottom (LRTB):


Languages such as Arabic and Hebrew flow text right to left (RLTB):










Although many (primarily East-Asian) Logographic languages have a long tradition of flowing text vertically (e.g. Chinese, Korean), most modern dialects of these languages primarily print the majority of their text horizontally left to right, from top to bottom (LRTB):


However, some languages continue to flow text vertically for more traditional or formal documents, signage, envelope addresses, business cards, etc.

Other languages, such as some used in the Philippines, are read from the bottom of the page upwards.

How does this affect the Windows Phone 7 User Experience?

For the Windows Phone 7 user experience (called “Metro”), Microsoft drew inspiration from the primarily textual themes, adorned with simple iconography, that we’re exposed to daily in our every-day life:


Text is used throughout the Metro experience to not only describe each activity, operation and page. In Windows Phone 7, application experiences expose a horizontal panorama between multiple “pages” of a given experience:


Within a given panoramic “page”, one sees the edge of the text and items on the page to the left or right, visually indicating to the user that there’s more to see if one wipes one’s finger to the right or left:


Note also that the title of the current “page” often exceeds the width of the page to indicate there’s more room on the right, encouraging users to pan horizontally.


While this is a fresh, compelling and highly engaging user experience, it offers obvious challenges when it comes to globalizing the Windows Phone experience. How will this user experience handle right-to-left languages such as Arabic and Hebrew? How will the user experiences support Logographic languages such as Chinese and Japanese? What happens when you run a French (LR) application on an Arabic (RL) Windows Phone?

Microsoft’s decision

Rather than trying to solve these problems prior to the launch of Windows Phone7, Microsoft is choosing to support Latin-based LRTB languages at launch. Support for other languages will be delivered incrementally in subsequent updates.

I applaud Microsoft for NOT trying to boil the ocean: It’s not yet clear how the challenges of globalizing the Windows Phone 7 user experience are to be solved. Why make the rest of the market wait until they have solved all these problems? Doing so would be crazy!

Microsoft is doing the right thing in releasing Windows Phone 7 for Latin-based languages first and adding support for other languages later. It may be frustrating to those interested in Windows Phone 7’s “Metro” user experience who will not see local language support at RTM, but an incremental approach and product rollout is the best approach Microsoft could take.

If you feel strongly that you want Microsoft to support your language, be sure to contact your local Microsoft subsidiary and make your voice heard. Contrary to commonly expressed opinion, the company DOES listen!

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