Microsoft to work with governments on localizing software

Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday announced it will work with governments and community groups to make Windows XP and Office 2003 available in more languages, a move that could be seen as a response to the advent of open source products.

Local and regional governments under a new Local Language Program can localize Windows XP Home and Professional and Office 2003 through a Language Interface Pack (LIP), Microsoft said in a statement. The software vendor will work with governments and communities to develop these packs, according to the statement.

A LIP can be installed as a layer on top of Windows XP with Service Pack 1 and the Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint applications that are part of Office Standard Edition 2003, Microsoft said.

“LIP does not offer you 100 per cent localization, but gets you about 80 per cent of the way there,” said Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for Windows at Microsoft. “There is a whole bunch of languages that we’re not localized in. This is a way to do better in getting coverage and getting more localization.”

Although most dialog boxes are localized with a language pack, not all of the resource files — help files, for example — are, Sullivan said.

LIPs have already been used in some regions to localize software. In India, Microsoft worked with local governments, academia and language experts to make Windows XP and Office available in Hindi, the company said. By the end of the year, LIPs for Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Gujarati will also be available, Microsoft said.

Microsoft hopes the Local Language Program will make its products available in 40 more languages. Currently Microsoft offers desktop software in about 40 languages, it said. Other languages to be added are Amharic (for Ethiopia) and Ukrainian, according to the statement.

But beyond expanding its reach, the Local Language Program may also have the goal of pleasing international governments. It joins other Microsoft initiatives geared toward governments, especially in emerging markets.

It has the earmarks of a response to a competitive threat from open source software, but Microsoft has altruistic reasons, too, said Paul DeGroot, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft Inc., in Kirkland, Wash.

“It is not merely a defensive response to Linux. The world is becoming more digital and there is good cause to bring more people into the digital world and give them the advantages of technology in their own language,” he said.

One thing about the program does concern DeGroot. The language packs only work with Windows XP and Office 2003, the latest versions of Microsoft’s desktop operating system and productivity software. That means it won’t be of much use to people with older hardware, he said.

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