Localization efforts covered in the Economist magazine

Here's an article from the Economist about Free software l10n and i18n
groups. Awesome!


Open source's local heroes
Dec 4th 2003 
>From The Economist print edition
Software: If the commercial sort does not speak your language, open-
source software may well do so instead

ITS POPULARITY is growing around the world, but open-source software has
particular appeal in developing countries. In China, South Korea, India,
Brazil and other countries, governments are promoting the use of such
software which, unlike the proprietary kind, allows users to inspect,
modify and freely redistribute its underlying programming instructions.
The open-source approach has a number of attractions. Adopting open-
source software can reduce costs, allay security concerns and ensure
there is no danger of becoming too dependent on a foreign supplier. But
there is another benefit, too: because it can be freely modified, open-
source software is also easier to translate, or localise, for use in a
particular language. This involves translating the menus, dialogue
boxes, help files, templates and message strings to create a new version
of the software.

Large software vendors have little incentive to support any but the most
widely spoken languages. Microsoft, for example, provides its Windows
2000 operating system in 24 languages, and Windows XP in 33. The company
also supports over 20 languages in the latest version of its Office
software suite. Yet for many languages, commercial vendors conclude that
producing a localised product is not economically viable.

The programmers who produce open-source software operate by different
rules, however. The leading desktop interfaces for the open-source Linux
operating system—KDE and GNOME—are, between them, available in more than
twice as many languages as Windows. KDE has already been localised for
42 languages, with a further 46 in the pipeline. Similarly, Mozilla, an
open-source web browser, now speaks 65 languages, with 34 more to
follow. OpenOffice, the leading open-source office suite, is available
in 31 languages, including Slovenian, Basque and Galician, and Indian
languages such as Gujarati, Devanagari, Kannada and Malayalam. And
another 44 languages including Icelandic, Lao, Latvian, Welsh and
Yiddish are on the way.

Localising software is a tedious job, but some people are passionate
enough about it to resort to unusual measures. The Hungarian translation
of OpenOffice was going too slowly for Janos Noll, founder of the
Hungarian Foundation for Free Software. So he built some web-based tools
to distribute the workload and threw a pizza party in the computer room
at the Technical University of Budapest. Over a dozen people worked
locally, with about 100 Hungarians submitting work remotely over the
web. Most of the work—translating over 21,000 text strings—was completed
in three days.

Dwayne Bailey of translate.org.za, an open-source translation project
based in South Africa, says localising open-source programs into Zulu,
Xhosa, Venda, Sesotho and other African languages makes computers more
accessible. With translated software, “these languages are suddenly
players in the modern world.” Neville Alexander, a former South African
freedom-fighter, agrees. “An English-only or even an English-mainly
policy necessarily condemns most people, and thus the country as a
whole, to a permanent state of mediocrity, since people are unable to be
spontaneous, creative and self-confident if they cannot use their first
language,” he says.

A similar approach is being taken in India, where there are 18 official
languages and over 1,000 regional dialects. Shikha Pillai is one of the
leaders of a team in Bangalore that is translating open-source software,
including OpenOffice, into ten Indian dialects. She, too, feels that
introducing Indian languages will help to foster a far deeper
penetration of information technology. “Localisation makes IT accessible
to common people,” she says. “And Indian-language enabled software could
revolutionise the way our communications work; even the way computers
are used in India.”

In May, Thailand's government launched a subsidised “people's PC” that
runs LinuxTLE, a Thai-language version of Linux. In September, Japan
said it would join a project established by China and South Korea to
develop localised, open-source alternatives to Microsoft's software.
Computer users around the world are discovering that open-source
software speaks their language. 

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