Microsoft has been targeting software pirates globally for years, but perhaps it's time to look closer to home. The company has been forced to pull the plug on its Twitter-like micro-blogging site in China called Juku because approximately 80 percent of the code for it, as well as the overall design, was stolen from a competitor.
The Canadian startup Plurk charged that Microsoft had stolen the code and design. In a blog post, the company said,
"...we were absolutely shocked and outraged when we first saw with our own eyes the cosmetic similarities Microsoft’s new offering had with Plurk. From the filter tabs, emoticons, qualifier/verb placement, Karma scoring system, media support, new user walkthroughs to pretty much everything else that gives Plurk its trademark appeal, Microsoft China’s offering ripped off our service."
How similar are the services? Look for yourself, below, in screenshots provided by Plurk. Microsoft's service is above, and Plurk below.
Plurk said the similarities go beyond design, and are in the actual code itself. Here's what the blog says:
"If this was just a case of visual inspiration gone too far, we could probably have lived with it. We would have taken the time to reach out to Microsoft, get colour on the matter and try to amicably resolve it. That’s not the case here. This is something far more sinister. On closer inspection, we found that MUCH of the codebase and data structures that Microsoft’s MClub uses are identical snapshots of our code. Microsoft has taken Plurk’s custom developed libraries, css files and client code and just ported them directly over to their service without any attempt to even mask this!"
The company says that about 80 percent of the code was stolen.
After a short investigation, Microsoft agreed and pulled the plug on the service. Juku was developed by a third party for MSN's Chinese joint venture. Microsoft said in a statement:
"...a portion of the code...was indeed copied. This was in clear violation of the vendor’s contract with the MSN China joint venture, and equally inconsistent with Microsoft’s policies respecting intellectual property."
This isn't the first time this has happened with Microsoft --- recently its Windows 7 download tool was found to contain GPL code. That tool, also, was created by a third party who contracted with Microsoft.
Third parties or not, though, Microsoft is responsible for making sure its software isn't stolen, and it's simply not doing the job. The Windows download tool was bad enough, but the Plurk incident is egregious. As the screenshot near the top of this blog shows, even a cursory examination would show plagiarism. Plurk was Microsoft's main competitor in the Chinese micro-blogging market, and Microsoft stole the design and code, plain and simple. Clearly, things need to be shaken up at Microsoft to make sure this doesn't happen again.
Update: Plurk is threatening to sue Microsoft over the theft. Get the details in my blog post, Plurk to Microsoft: Apologies don't cut it, show us the money.
This story, "Microsoft Yanks Stolen Code" was originally published by Computerworld.