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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Microsoft suspends its Chinese micro-blogging service

BEIJING, December 15 09 |  Xihuanet

-- Technology giant Microsoft has suspended its Chinese based micro-blogging service after accusations it plagiarized the design and programming code of a rival client.

Plurk, a free social networking and micro-blogging service, laid out its case against Microsoft in a blog post on Monday. The post displayed screenshots of both the Plurk platform and Mocrosoft's MSN Juku, also known as Club MSN.

A Plurk spokesman said the company had been investigating for a few weeks, trying to determine whether the resemblance was accidental or deliberate. "With more research, we found out that Microsoft blatantly took our code, slightly changed it and used it on their new Club MSN site," Plurk's Dave Thompson said.

"Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but blatant theft of code, design, and UI elements is just not cool, especially when the infringing party is the biggest software company in the world," Plurk said in its blog post.

Screenshots of Microsoft's Juku displayed strong similarities to that of Plurk. In addition code of the two platforms was almost identical.

"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," Plurk said.

In a statement on Monday Microsoft said it was shutting down the Juku service while it investigates the situation. In the statement, it noted that the Juku code had been provided by an independent vendor.

Plurk is based in Canada, but popular across Asia, particularly Taiwan and the Philippines, though like Twitter it is blocked in China. The company is still deciding their next course of action as regards the apparent copyright infringement. The first priority was "to get Microsoft to cease and desist the activity," Thompson said.

Plurk has often been considered to be a rival to Twitter, an earlier micro-blogging service. Plurk has also been accused of plagiarizing and borrowing heavily from Twitter. In the past Dave Thompson, a New Zealand-based spokesman for Plurk, has conceded that Plurk was "inspired by Twitter" but says the site has a more "whimsical" feel with features that aren't currently available on the rival service.

The future for Microsoft's Juku looks unclear. The service only launched in November more as an effort to compete with the popular Instant Message client QQ. MSN China, the Microsoft joint venture that developed the product, insisted it was not a microblog service. "Juku is a local innovation developed by MSN China … based on Windows Live Messenger networks," a company representative said shortly after its launch.

It is the second time in recent weeks that Microsoft has been accused of lifting other's work in its products. Last month, the company was forced to pull down a tool for loading Windows 7 onto Netbooks after allegations that the product improperly included open-source code. Microsoft later apologized and last week re-released the tool under the GPL open-source license. Microsoft also blamed a third-party vendor in that case.