Microsoft is facing some questions about political correctness and fonts this week following the release of a critical Windows update that also happens to include a previously released font removal tool.
At issue is Microsoft's decision to remove two swastikas and the Star of David from its Bookshelf Symbol 7 font. Microsoft officials characterized the presence of the swastikas as "an unintentional oversight." The company has confirmed that some users became upset at the presence of the swastikas.
The Bookshelf Symbol 7 font removal tool is available online and is part of a critical update to Windows which went out this week. The explanation for posting the tool says "this font has been found to contain unacceptable symbols." The removal tool specifically removes the Bssym7.ttf font that is included in Microsoft Office 2003.
Microsoft also released an open letter explaining its decision to release the font removal tool, which says the impetus was the presence of "two swastikas" within the font set, and implies that some users had become upset. The statement came last Thursday from senior vice president of Microsoft Office, Steven Sinofsky, and the text is as follows:
"Microsoft has learned of a mistake in the Bookshelf Symbol 7 font included in the Microsoft Office System client applications. Due to an unintentional oversight, we failed to identify, prior to the release, the presence of two swastikas within the font. We apologize for this and for any offense caused. Microsoft is taking immediate measures to remedy the issue for all customers.
Microsoft has released a utility today for worldwide download that removes the font. Again, we apologize to those who have been offended or upset. We continue to work to improve our processes in order to prevent this type of error in the future."
PC Magazine staffers ran a standard "diff" check on the Bookshelf Symbol 7 font pack, using Microsoft Word, before and after installing the update from Microsoft and found that in addition to the removal of the swastikas from the font set, the Star of David had also been removed.
Microsoft Office product manager Simon Marks also confirmed in an interview with PC Magazine that the Star of David was removed from the font set because, he says, the physical proximity of the Star of David to the swastikas in the font set upset some users.
"If you went in a font tool to look at how the font was laid out — a character map — the Star of David was within one or two characters of the swastikas," he says. "We already ship the Star of David within other fonts we make available so we didn't want to cause any more potential offense."
Marks also added that there are international issues of legality regarding the use of Nazi symbols. "We're a multi-national company and there are countries where Nazi and neo-Nazi symbology is illegal, so we need to be aware of that," he said.
There's already hubbub on the Web about the original inclusion of the swastikas, and Microsoft's policy of removing them. At book author John Walkenbach's J-Walk Web log (j-walkblog.com/blog/index/D20031213/), participants sought to point out the different uses of the swastikas in different cultures.
One posted a partial screen shot of a Tokyo map showing reversed swastikas that are used to denote the location of Buddhist temples. The poster also explained, "Swastika means Buddhist Temples and Buddha's teaching at Asia, Japan," and adds that "Nazis abused 'Reversed Spin' Swastika's meaning." Prior to the rise of Nazism in Germany, the swastika actually had benign religious significance in Japan. PC Magazine staffers who did the lookup with Microsoft Word also tracked down references to a form of swastika which means God of Knowledge in Hinduism.
Microsoft's Marks maintains that many users were upset about the swastikas. "I received several phone calls myself from customers who were upset and they made it clear in no uncertain terms that they disliked having that font on their computers," he said.