16 December 2008

Yoruba: Free Software's Shame

One of the advantages of free software that I've often touted is the ability to produce localised versions in situations where Microsoft would find the market too small. But it seems that Microsoft is waking up to some languages that free software is neglecting:

A post on the Yoruba Affairs newsgroup, which I subscribe to, recently announced that (a draft of?) the Yoruba Glossary for Microsoft's Language Interface Pack has just been released, as a partnership between ALT-i and Microsoft Unlimited Potential (whose acronym is, of course, "UP", not "MUP"). At 196 pages and 2000-3000 terms, this is a substantial document.

And there's worse news:

In response to my 2004 post about the confused NYT article, Bill Poser added some background about localization efforts in general, and registered a complaint about Microsoft "not localizing their software when they didn't see enough profit in it". But in fairness to Microsoft, they've had a large and effective localization effort for many years. They've certainly done much more than other computer companies have done, and in this case, perhaps more than the free software community has done.


The post also talks about Wazobia Linux:

a distribution with (some programs?) localized in Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. But it is apparently not actually free — only a demo version can be downloaded from the company's site, and those interested in the full version are invited to contact the company by email to discuss prices. The "where to buy" link is "currently under construction", and the Wazobia page at DistroWatch.com characterized this distribution as "dormant". I don't know of any other Linux distributions with a significant amount of localization in Yoruba — for example, the Yoruba pages for KDE localization and for Mandriva Tools localization don't show very much progress.

Now, I've managed to find some ISO images of Wazobia, but it's not clear whether they are full or demos: does anyone know? I'm reluctant to download the images, since I'm conscious that I would probably be clogging up the site's link to Europe, which it might have better uses for.

Anyway, it certainly looks like free software needs to pull up its Yoruban socks if we don't want to lose an entire dialect continuum to Microsoft....


marnanel said...

The Yoruba translations have made their way upstream, but we can't really do anything without translators who are fluent in Yoruba volunteering. It's not that we don't care about speakers of Yoruba; it's merely that Microsoft pay for their translations. We don't.

Glyn Moody said...

I didn't mean it as a real criticism, just a hope that more might be done here. It's always difficult when you're dependent on volunteers.