Remembering the time Windows accidentally sent Poland to the bottom of the sea

Geopolitics and operating systems are hard

Microsoft veteran Raymond Chen took to YouTube over the weekend to remind us of the time the Windows vendor accidentally sank Poland.

Speaking on the Dave's Garage channel, run by former Microsoft engineer Dave Plummer, Chen added some flourishes to a story from decades ago regarding the neat time zone map that initially shipped with Windows 95.

Readers of a certain age might remember the original Windows 95 time zone map. It was a fun feature where a user could click on a region of a map to select a time zone or regional settings - something that engineers doubtless had a blast making before geopolitical realities hit home.

If you don't remember the time zone map working that way, don't worry. Microsoft had to pull the features after governments complained about where their borders were. In 2003, Chen explained: "In early 1995, a border war broke out between Peru and Ecuador, and the Peruvian government complained to Microsoft that the border was incorrectly placed.

Youtube Video

"Of course, if we complied and moved the border northward, we'd get an equally angry letter from the Ecuadorian government demanding that we move it back. So we removed the feature altogether."

Talking to Plummer, Chen added some more detail: "There were even arguments from countries who were not engaged in a border conflict where a small European country would contact us and say, 'Hey, our country is kind of small, can you give us one of our neighbor's pixels to make it easier to click on?"

This triggered an angry response from another country demanding why one of their pixels had been given away, and so it went on.

Since making everyone happy was impossible, Chen said the solution was to rotate the map to put the selected zone in the center. All good? Not quite...

"There was a bug that we introduced when we did that though..."

Chen went on to explain how the updated time zone map worked. Choose a zone, and all the pixels of the same code were highlighted, and the rest dimmed. "We just took out all the coloring code," he said, "but the map was still there ... we just used the map to identify where land and ocean was."

Which is where the problem happened. According to Chen, changes were made to the time zone information for Poland. The country's time zone was changed to match that of its neighbors, but unfortunately, the colors on the map were not updated accordingly.

"Poland's time-zone - the original 'exclusive to Poland' time zone disappeared ... as a result when you went to the world map - the time zone picker map - there was ocean where Poland is supposed to be."

The problem had been caused by the deletion of Poland from the list since nobody used the zone. However, Microsoft's engineers forgot about one thing that did use it… the map. The result was that Poland remained at the bottom of the sea instead of being highlighted with the rest of the zone.

Chen recalled that the issue was eventually fixed but said: "There was a period of time when if you went to the time zone map, instead of Poland, you saw, er, what we called 'The Great Polish Sea'." ®

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