Microsoft has apologised after developers uncovered a reference to “big boobs” buried in software code written by the firm.
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The string “0xB16B00B5″, a hexadecimal value, was found in software that allows Microsoft programs to work with Linux, the open source operating system.
It prompted widespread criticism of Microsoft and debate over whether a “boys club” culture deters women from entering the software industry.
Microsoft quickly apologised for the inclusion of the term and updated the code to remove it.
“We thank the community for reporting this issue and apologise for the offensive string,” a spokesman said told the IT news website Network World.
It also emerged that a similar reference – “0x0B00B135″ or “boobies” – appeared in an earlier version of the same software code.
The issue was first raised last week by Paolo Bonzini, a contributor to a Linux developers’ mailing list and sparked fierce debate.
“At the most basic level it’s just straightforward childish humour, and the use of vaguely-English strings in magic hex constants is hardly uncommon,” said Matthew Garrett, a developer at the Linux firm Red Hat.
“But it’s also specifically male childish humour. Puerile sniggering at breasts contributes to the continuing impression that software development is a boys club where girls aren’t welcome.”
Others, however, suggested talk of sexism was over-the-top.
“By reacting to such nonsense – and the code does not come from any Linux kernel developer, it is all from a Microsoft developer – Garrett has trivialised a cause that requires, perhaps, a little more than boy scout behaviour to be tackled,” said Sam Varghese, a writer at ITWire.
For Microsoft, the controversy has unwelcome echoes of embarrassments last year, when the High Court heard claims that male executives had sexually harassed female colleagues and that “drunkenness and outrageous misbehaviour were rife” at the firm.
The software giant was also forced to apologise in June, after it promoted its cloud computing services at a conference with an all-female song and dance routine it admitted “had vulgar language, was inappropriate and was just not ok”.
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