July 15, 2005

A successful conference on software localization in the Balkans

Author: Daniel Secareanu

During the first three days of July, 25 Central and Eastern Europeans gathered for a three day conference in Belgrade, Serbia, to discuss localization of free software in the Balkans. Vedran Vucic of the Belgrade Linux Center organized the conference so Europeans could network and discuss future regional localization projects.

With financial backing from the Open Society Institute Information Program, a primary goal of the conference was to bring together people who have been working on translating free software to their native languages. The idea was to have them exchange information and know-how, as well as the tools and techniques they use. The participants were young enthusiasts from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia and Montenegro. Many participants have been involved in projects, such as KDE, GNOME, Debian, Fedora, SUSE Linux, FreeBSD, and Mambo.

"The Balkan area is characterized by a very mixed demographic presence of various ethnic groups," Vucic said, "partly because of rather turbulent historical changes from early history and up to the 20th century. Thus, Hungarians, Romanians, Serbs, Croats, Albanians, Macedonians, and other ethnic groups live together, and there is no region in the Balkans that is inhabited by only one ethnic group. Although such a setting is a resource of cultural richness, these countries are prone to periodic inter-ethnic disputes and violent conflicts."

The critical need for access to information, especially in one's native language, was a key reason for these countries to put aside ethnic disputes and gather to exchange information about the localization efforts taking place in their region. Participants gave presentations on their current projects, including the tools and techniques they have been using to translate free software.

Even though most of free software and its documentation is localized in various countries, usually members of different ethnic groups aren't aware that these resources exist, or are unable to access them. "It is often the case," Vucic said, "that people who are involved in localization and translation efforts are not well coordinated, and they do not exchange sources of documentation and software. For example, only a small number of those involved in localization and translation efforts are familiar with software packages designed for professional translators, such as DocBook."

"Localization and translation activities are usually undertaken by volunteer activists who have neither the time nor the resources to follow changes of software and documentation versions by active and timely updates and management by CVS, Subversion, or other version management software packages," Vucic said. "However, it is obvious that resources and potential are very big, and that in each country or ethnic group, there are hard-working, skilled, and talented activists dedicating their time and energy in localization and translation."

Conference participants brainstormed a list of potential projects. One idea was to organize a regional localization camp, where companies involved in packaging Linux and free software into commercial products and services, such as Novell and Red Hat, would invest some resources to involve these young enthusiasts in paid localization projects, from which everyone would benefit. The sponsoring companies would benefit because adoption of Linux and open source software would be easier if people could work with it in their native language. The open source community would benefit because concentrated localization efforts could be integrated into free software projects. Perhaps most important, hundreds of additional users would profit from having access to information technology in their native language.

The conference was a big success. Participants exchanged contact details and built friendships, giving hope for future common projects that will benefit the Balkan region.

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