Thursday, November 28, 2013

Microsoft giving Africa LIP(s)

Where are we now with software localization in African languages? I'd like to try to take stock in several quick installments, beginning with desktop/laptop software and then moving to mobile devices. This post starts it off with Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office, due to no particular ordering - I just happened to come across something recently relating to Microsoft's (MS's) localization efforts.

MS's products are offered in diverse languages, but in what might be described as a tiered arrangement. A number of languages have fully localized versions - for MS Office 2013, for instance, there are by my count 40 such versions (which includes only Arabic among African languages, as well as the principal Eurphone languages used in Africa). But for other languages, MS's Local Language Program develops Language Interface Packs (LIPs) for Windows and Office. A LIP includes translations of about 80% of commands (the most frequently used), and is installed over another version, basically changing the language interface to the language of the LIP.

MS has added a number of African language LIPs for Windows and Office over the past decade. This represents a significant amount of work, notably on terminology (another key topic I hope to return to).

MS Windows 7, which was released in 2009, had 10 African language LIPsWindows 8, released in 2012, introduced 3 more African LIPs (Kinyarwanda, Tigrinya, and Wolof), a Botswanan version for Setswana, and allowed installation of Hausa LIP on French in addition to English base language. The following list, derived from lists on the Windows site, summarizes African language LIP support under Windows 7 and 8 (in parentheses are the base languages on which the LIP can be installed, as well as indications for those languages added with 8 but not available for 7):

  • Afrikaans (English base language editions)
  • Amharic (English base language editions)
  • Hausa (English base language editions; in Windows 8, French base language also)
  • Igbo (English base language editions)
  • Kinyarwanda (in Windows 8 only; English base language editions)
  • Sesotho sa Leboa (English base language editions)
  • Setswana 
    • Botswana (in Windows 8 only; English base language editions)
    • South Africa (English base language editions)
  • Swahili (English base language editions)
  • Tigrinya (Ethiopia) (in Windows 8 only; English base language editions)
  • Wolof (in Windows 8 only; English base language editions & French base language)
  • Xhosa (English base language editions)
  • Yoruba (English base language editions)
  • Zulu (English base language editions)

The number of MS Office LIPs for African languages has gone from three for Office 2003 to 13 for Office 2013 (that's out of a total of over 100 LIPs worldwide). The table below is adapted from information on their Office Language Interface Pack (LIP) downloads page (check marks indicate LIP available):

Language Native name MS Office
MS Office
MS Office
MS Office
Afrikaans Afrikaanse
Amharic አማርኛ
Hausa Hausa
Igbo Igbo
Kinyarwanda Kinyarwanda
Sepedi /
Northern Sotho
Sesotho sa Leboa 
Setswana (South Africa)  Setswana
Swahili KiSwahili
Tigrinya ትግርኛ
Wolof Wolof
Xhosa isiXhosa
Yoruba ede Yorùbá
Zulu isiZulu

I have no information on any plans for other African languages.

MS additionally offers Multilingual User Interfaces which provide language interface options on a single device, though it is not clear whether any of these offer any African languages. (The term Language Packs, as distinguished from LIPs, has me [and apparently also Wikipedia?] a bit confused as it seems to be used in different ways.)

See also MS's Language Portal for additional information on their localization efforts. Also worth noting that evidently MS completed the LIPs much more quickly with recent releases than they had in the past.

I'd invite any comments - corrections or additional information. In getting back up to speed on this I again encountered MS's ever complex array of sites and pages about different programs, products, and versions, so it's probable I missed some relevant information... 

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