Microsoft takes computing to Indian masses

Microsoft Corp. has tied up with the government of the Indian state of Orissa to support computing in the local Oriya language, under a program called Project Bhasha. Bhasha is the Oriya word for language.

Microsoft signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Orissa, under which it will work with the Orissa Computer Application Center (OCAC) on the development of customizable local language applications and system integration as well as the computerization of various state government departments in Orissa, the Redmond, Washington, company said in a statement Tuesday. The company will also help train people in the use of computers and local language applications.

Even as a number of open source organizations and some Indian government agencies have been advocating the use of open source technologies such as Linux, Microsoft is attempting to counter that with software and programs that will give students and other citizens access to its products in local Indian languages.

“We don’t have any preconditions on sales arising from this initiative,” said Sudev Muthya, director of the enterprise partner group at Microsoft Corp. India Pvt. Ltd. in Delhi. “This is part of our program of inclusive computing, to reach out to the large number of people in India who do not know English. One obvious use of computing is e-governance, but there are other areas such as public services like the railways and telcos, where computing will take off and benefit the masses if it is in the local language.”

Microsoft has worked with other state governments such as those of Haryana and Karnataka, but these were on specific projects, Muthya said. It has worked with the government of the state of Haryana on Nai Disha, a government to citizen portal.

“The tie-up with the Orissa government is on a state-wide project, which is far more ambitious, and will have a larger impact,” Muthya said. “For now we are investing to popularize the technology, which could later translate into sales for us both from government and other agencies including the private sector.”

The company did not disclose how much it is investing in the project in Orissa.

As part of the agreement, Microsoft will collaborate with the Orissa government to initially develop basic software support for the Oriya language, followed by the development of an Oriya Language Interface Pack for Microsoft Windows and Office. Microsoft will also invest in setting up a Community Glossary Web site, enabling users to provide feedback on the translated glossary.

On the skills transfer front, Microsoft plans to organize a training workshop for government employees, and host a writers’ workshop to include in-depth discussions on how to use Microsoft products with Indian languages. The company will also provide technical training, tools and sponsorship to developers for creating localized Oriya language applications, it said.

Additionally, Microsoft will assist the state government in the setting up of a Bhasha Language Lab at an education institute in Orissa, through which it plans to organize regular events on the latest technological trends related to local language based application development.

“These programs and our various efforts to offer software in local languages will help counter open source software, but that is not the only objective of this initiative,” Muthya said. “This program is more about reaching out to a larger audience, and to do that you have to use the local language, and government helps as a very important catalyst.”

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