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Computers for all: localisation efforts hot up

Harichandan A. A.

BANGALORE, DEC. 7. When localisation was a fancy word to many, the effort to make software interfaces in Indian languages has come some way. Both makers of proprietary software such as Microsoft Corp., and the open source camp including in India the IndLinux project have made considerable headway in building software programmes that give a 'desi' feel to computers.

Starting with Hindi, both camps have moved on to making email, Internet browsing and other common and popular uses of the personal computer accessible to Indians in local languages. For instance, last month Microsoft released a Language Interface Package (LIP) in Kannada. The LIP makes words such as file, edit, save and all other instructions and prompts appear in the local language, be it Kannada, Tamil, Gujarati or Hindi.

While the localisation effort has been going on for some years now, what is boosting the effort now is the need for standardisation and a shift towards a system called `Unicode' that allows software applications to work with multiple languages simultaneously, says G. Karunakar, IndLinux's project co-ordinator.

"Our work started as a Indian language-font-based project and while there was some initial success, taking the software to a large number of people or even making it international, made standardisation inevitable,'' Mr. Karunakar, says. IndLinux, short for the Indian Linux Project, aims to create a Linux distribution — a package of software applications that run on the Linux operating system — that supports Indian languages at all levels, IndLinux's website says.

The project is open source. Anyone can take a peek at the software code itself, and completely free. It is licensed under GNU (General Public License) which only requires those who modify the code to make the modification available to all, free.

"The latest versions of most applications, open source or not, recognise Unicode and therefore support multiple languages at the same time.'' So, for instance, "one could type a sentence in a text editor with an English word followed by a Hindi word followed by Chinese and back to English,'' he said. IndLinux was now at a stage where this would be made possible — translation.

"Translation, which we are doing now involves finding the nearest equivalent of the English words used as a default in most interfaces. We have an almost-ready version of a package of applications based on free software, which we have named Rangoli. The final version will be ready by the end of this month,'' he said. The project aims to put various free software applications that can run directly from a compact disc.

Other groups that IndLinux inspired and/or spawned include groups for Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu and Assamese.

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