The popular open-source desktop suite OpenOffice will be available in three new languages on Saturday: the South African languages of Zulu, Sepedi and Afrikaans.
This release is timed to coincide with Software Freedom Day, the first of what the organisers hope will become an annual global event for increasing the awareness and encourage the use of open-source software.
The new versions of OpenOffice have been prepared by Translate.org.za, a not-for-profit organisation that hopes to make open-source software available in the 11 official languages of South Africa. Dwayne Bailey, director of Translate.org.za, said on Friday that increasing the take-up of open-source software in Africa is important to drive down the cost of adopting modern technology:
"South Africa spends a ludicrously high amount of money on importing proprietary software," he said.
Bailey said that open-source software empowers communities, as anyone can access and modify the source code, and even minority languages can be translated.
The organisation has already translated the open-source desktop GNOME into Afrikaans; OpenOffice into three languages; and Mozilla into seven languages. Bailey hopes that it will finish translating Mozilla and OpenOffice into the remaining languages by next year.
Bailey plans to translate both GNOME and KDE, another Linux desktop, into 11 languages as he considers both equally valuable. The harder task is choosing which version of the operating system to translate. This is a major investment, as each has a raft of different administration tools that will also require translation into each language.
"The hard decision for me is which Linux distro to translate. Fedora is popular, but Debian seems more open and Knoppix is becoming more popular," he said. "They all have different administration tools -- setting up the network, printers and adding users is different on each one. I don't want to translate five different network set-up tools."
Translate.co.za has government funding for two years and hopes that by the time this ends it will have built up a volunteer community which can maintain the translated versions. It is also helping other African organisations set up similar translation groups in Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania and Rwanda.
Microsoft Windows XP and 2003 are available in the African languages Swahili and Afrikaans. A Microsoft spokesman said that through its Local Language Program it is increasing the availability of Microsoft software in non-supported languages.
"Language Interface Packs (LIP) are a localisation solution for emerging language markets," said a Microsoft spokesman.
"Microsoft will collaborate with third parties, such as regional and local governments, local language authorities, and universities to distribute LIPs in selected regions around the world. The Language Interface Pack is a free downloadable add-on to Windows XP and Office 2003," said the spokesman.
Translate.org.za has received sponsorship from the Shuttleworth Foundation, which promotes the use of open-source software in South African schools, as well as the South African Department of Communications, South African open-source vendor Obsidian Systems, Hewlett-Packard South Africa and St James Software.