July 14, 2006

Localise!

Author: Jerzy Celichowski

The localisation of OpenOffice.org into the Georgian language is
to be completed this summer. It marks part of an important process
taking place in Georgia, a former Soviet republic. A year ago the
ministry of education decided to rely on open source software in its
multimillion-dollar school computerisation project Deer Leap because delivering software in Georgian was only possible if
open source was chosen; Microsoft's local partner had just announced
another delay in releasing Georgian Windows.

A small but dedicated Linux promotion group called Open
Consultants took the lead in coordinating the localisation process by
collaborating with local Linux community. A localisation camp
organised last summer gave enough impetus to the community to
complete Georgian KDE. A camp planned for early August this year
should result in a full Georgian OpenOffice.org.

By September the number of schools equipped with computers will
reach 600 (out of 2,300 in the country). The 7,750 machines they
employ will run on Deer Leap Linux, which is a local version of
Fedora. Other software on these machines will include
Georgian-language Firefox, Thunderbird, KDE Edutainmant, and, soon,
OpenOffice.org.

These developments demonstrate the potential of FOSS to provide
software in a local language, which is one of its key advantages.

Today, approximately 32% of world population or 1.8bn people
cannot use a computer in their own language if they rely on Microsoft
products -- a figure I derive from looking at a
list of the languages in which Windows XP is available
and data
on the spread of world languages. These people speak both languages
with large numbers of speakers, such as Bengali (196 million),
Javanese (76 million), and Persian (66 million), and languages whose
speakers number in the thousands rather than millions. Clearly, none
of them has been tempting enough for Microsoft to localise its
products so far, and some may never be, as in addition to offering
low numbers of potential customers, they often are spoken by poor or
minority people.

Localised FOSS is the best option for computing without relying on
a foreign language. Localisation is a serious issue for many
non-English-speakers. Why is this issue not especially prominent in
discussions concerning FOSS? Perhaps because these discussions are
dominated by people who do not suffer from this problem, as either
they enjoy the availability of the software they need in their own
language, or they have gone through the pain of learning to compute
in a foreign language, often also learning the language itself. Those
who stand to benefit from localised language versions of FOSS most
(those less educated, children) do not participate in the
discussions, as they either don't speak foreign languages or, quite
obviously, cannot use a computer.

Clearly, the situation is not static, and Microsoft does release
new language versions of its products at times, but one should not
assume that a single company can cater for the needs of a world where
6,912
languages
are spoken.

Localisation groups: remember Georgia and think big.
Policy-makers: have as much courage as the Georgians have had.
Funders: keep the above numbers in mind, think of other countries
like Georgia and support localisation efforts there. The localisation
potential of FOSS is yet to be fully explored.

Languages Windows XP is available in

Millions of speakers

Arabic

206

Basque

1

Bulgarian

7.5

Catalan

6.7

Chinese

1080

Croatian

6.2

Czech

12

Danish

5.3

Dutch

22

English

340

Estonian

1

Finnish

5.4

French

67

Gaelic

0.25

Galician

3.2

German

102

Greek

12

Gujarati

46

Hebrew

5.1

Hindi

370

Hungarian

15

Icelandic

0.3

Indonesian

23

Italian

61

Japanese

126

Kannada

35

Korean

71

Latvian

1.5

Lithuanian

3.1

Marathi

68

Norwegian (Bokmal and Nynorsk)

4.6

Polish

46

Portuguese

203

Punbjabi

61.5

Romanian

25

Russian

145

Serbian

11

Slovak

5

Slovenian

2.2

Spanish

350

Swedish

8.8

Tamil

68

Telugu

70

Thai

31

Turkish

60

Ukrainian

39

Vietnamese

70

Welsh

0.6

Total number of people with Windows XP available in their
mother tongue

3903.05 (68%)

Total world population mid-2004

5723.86

Total number of people without Windows XP available in their
mother tongue

1820.81 (32%)

Category:

  • Migration
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