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Globalization in Tech: The Windows 8.1 Edition

Time was, a Microsoft operating system update would be the major IT event of that month, and every computer- and peripheral-maker would drop everything to be sure to have drivers and software ready for go-day.

So it speaks to Microsoft's loss of market power, at least on the client side, that much of the industry seems to yawn when Microsoft does something as major as update its flagship OS, in this case from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1. 

I encountered a separate wrinkle that points up our increasingly, geographically multi-polar world. The United States is no longer the undisputed king of tech. This has been obvious for a while, but I'm about to share my first actual experience of it.

It used to be that when Microsoft would ship something, the rest of the industry would be ready with English-first drivers, and they'd be carefully checking Microsoft's multi-language roadmap to align their non-English software and drivers with Microsoft's schedules.

Not so with Windows 8.1. I'd been using a Lenovo Ideapad Yoga 13 with the Windows 8.1 preview for months, so I thought nothing of upgrading when Windows 8.1 became available in the Windows Store last week.

Much to my chagrin, once the upgrade was complete, the audio stopped working and I had trouble staying connected to my wireless network, among other problems.

An online hunt for new Windows 8.1 drivers led me to a Lenovo support forum, where I learned from a forum participant that the Beijing-based Lenovo did have a Chinese driver available already, but didn't have an English one yet. (This was last week -- new drivers are available now.)

Comfortable with the Lenovo domain in the URL, the pointer from an official support forum and the rudimentary Google Chrome translation of the Chinese-language support page, I went for it. It was a slightly white-knuckle affair when the pop-up windows of the installation wizard presented me with mostly question marks where text ought to go, but it worked well enough. A reboot later, and audio and consistent wireless access were back.

Spare me the lectures about not doing my homework before upgrading and the potential security problems I could have opened myself up to by downloading in another language. I know I'm guilty of ranging far afield of safe-computing best practices. (Although I will say that Microsoft's loss of mindshare has also led to much, much less non-official documentation of non-obvious potential pitfalls. That's a subject for another day.)

This was my first experience of seeing non-English drivers available for Windows before English drivers. What's your take? Is this symptomatic of an inevitable erosion of influence by U.S. tech companies? Or am I reading too much into an isolated incident? Leave a comment below or e-mail me at sbekker@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 24, 2013 at 1:17 PM


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