Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Marathi localization saga

Recently there was request on MOS for an article on Marathi Localization from someone who is from well known MarathiWorld website. It got almost no meaningful response as usual. I decided to step in and started writing about it. The intent was mainly on documenting what exactly brought us (read indictrans) into this and what the hell is so important about l10n that is inspiring us all in indic localizer's world. All this with reference to Marathi Localization. I did came out with some document which I am going to paste here inline. This may not be exactly complete, but I thought having something like this written somewhere I can always point somebody to this link, to tell him what is it that is driving me. Here is the writeup:

The Marathi Localization Effort

The MarathiOpensource was started to bring benefits of Free/Opensource softwares to the marathi speaking people by making the software interface as well as functioning available in Marathi. Before this, the marathi localization was started by the Indictrans team (see www.indictrans.org) which is a team of developers working as a non-profit setup in localization. I will try and summarise the entire movement from beginning.

First, let me introduce the concept of OpenSource.Actually, although this group is named marathiopensource, it will be more correct to say that we work in Free/Opensource softwares (FOSS for short). There is difference between Free and Opensource software and the difference is significant enough to be mentioned specifically. This is a localization group. Localization means bringing a particular software into one's own language. Note that this is not ONLY translation (see 3rd para). The process basically involves adapting the software behaviour to suit that particular language/culture. E.g. localizing a software into Hindi includes, say, making that software understand data format in Hindi, currency, sort order etc. and many other things. Those softwares which are designed to be extended to other languages/cultures, are called as "internationlized". This is a complementary process to Localization. You will find more info at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internationalization_and_localization

The basic motivation behind localization is to bring benefits of technological advancements into once own language. In a country like India where merely 10% (or perhaps less?) people can understand/talk english, it is the tool to make technology accessible to remaining 90% or more people. One may also see this as one way of preserving our rich heritage. We wish to bridge the digital divide created by the language barrier.

I want to stress this point again that localization doesn't mean translation only. Localization has many
dimensions like localized calenders and date format, currency, measurements, numerals, etc. It also involves testing out the translations, review of localized interfaces. Ofcourse the first goal of any localization team is to translate a complete desktop environment like GNOME (http://www.gnome.org) or KDE (www.kde.org) into their own language. The umbrella organisation for all localization teams across India is the indlinux project (see www.indlinux.org) which was the first effort of localizing GNU/Linux into Hindi. We all have got technical support from this project which is lead by Karunakar.

After finishing my engineering in 2003, I started working with Prof Shah at his other house on localization of some softwares like yudit (www.yudit.org), drgeo(www.ofset.org) into marathi. This is when we started calling us Indictrans team. Prof Jitendra Shah is the founder/funder of this team. He paid us from his pocket to carry out the work. We later did some Govt. and Non-Govt sector small projects more info on which can be found on the website. Indictrans came out with initial GNOME desktop in Marathi. With initial That was a liveCD named "gnubhaaratii" based on Morphix.That was first marathi GNU/Linux desktop.Response to this CD was good and we got newspaper coverage number of times. But due to limited resources, we could not really scale it up in a big way.One majot contribution of Indictrans team is Gargi opentype font which is the first freely available Marathi Unicode OpenType font (free here means free for use/distribution and this font is released under GPL - http://www.gnu.org/licenses/licenses.html#GPL)

Meanwhile our projects in free/opensource especially the DJMS Unicode migration and voterlist search engine for Election Commission (see http://203.199.16.202/voterlist/ for a working demo) earned a lot of goodwill for FOSS in Govt of Maharashtra. Looking at Prof Shah's work so far, Ministry of IT (MIT) Central Govt asked him to propose a project for bringing together all the localization efforts to deliver the benefits of this localised system to the end user. Hence janabhaaratii came into existence. janabhaaratii is the TDIL (www.tdil.mit.gov.in) funded initiative whose main objective is "development, deployment and community building for localised free/opensource softwares". Please see www.janabhaaratii.org.in for more details. As part of janabhaaratii project, we took forward marathi localization work which was halted for some time. We joined hands with marathiopensource group lead by Vijay Barve and others and started translating GNOME desktop. We created portal to coordinate marathi localization at (http://www.janabhaaratii.org.in:9673/marathi/l10n/)

We also set up aantarabhaaratii (www.janabhaaratii.org.in/portal) as a collaborative portal to bring together all language teams across India. unfortunately due to some reasons, which are beyond scope of this document, we had resource crunch and the portal was down for some time. Now its up. We also have "janabhaaratii Live CD" which is again similar to gnubhaaratii, is a customised version of popular live CD knoppix (www.knoppix.net) with tools like fonts/keyboard and other softwares for working in Marathi. As part of janabhaaratii, we also did some training in Mantralaya of Govt of Maharashtra. We also have statet police headquarters using marathi software developed by us for their daily reports. More info about this on janabhaaratii website.

This is the story so far. If you are interested in knowing what is the amount of work required to be done to create a complate Marathi desktop, what is the work done so far, please contact Priti Patil from our team, who is also on this list. I would also like to comment on current situation. We started translations of some po files (files required to be translated for localization) with some members of marathiopensource group coming forward for translations. I am so sad to see that except a few of them, nobody has given the translations yet. It has been almost 5-6 months now that we have assigned files and there is no news on the files. Those few who have translated files has done a good job, they need to keep it up. We are the technological people and though we did translations in the beginning, we always knew that they wont be usable in long run unless they are vetted by some user/language-lovers. I agree it is a voluntary work and I have worked myself in such environment for long time, but then despite our continuous appeals if nobody is responding, then it simply means that most of the people here do not agree with the vision of localized computing and they are not able to see the power of this phenomenon which is to some extent our failure also.

At the end, I appeal once again to all to come and contribute in this initiative. You dont have to be language expert, programmer, engineer etc. All that you need is love for your own language. This is the best opportunity to make sure that your language doesn't get lost in the digital age. Those who want to help can mail me personally.



Now let us see how many people get interested after reading this.