What Linux really means for India is localization

What Linux really means for India is localization

Summary: When I read that India was preparing to distribute Linux on CD, as reported by Ingrid Marson, I knew there was an important word that needed to get into this discussion.The word is localization.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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Indian newspaperWhen I read that India was preparing to distribute Linux on CD, as reported by Ingrid Marson, I knew there was an important word that needed to get into this discussion.

The word is localization.

Bangalore, the heart of India's "Silicon Valley," is a case in point. It's in Karnataka state. The official language is Kannada (no relation to the friendly country north of the U.S.). Nearly one-third of the people in Karnataka, however, are Tamil, including many in the technical elite, and in fact, the first distribution of this localized Linux was in Tamil.

The two languages are quite different. Here's a Bangalore newspaper in Tamil. Here's one in Kannada.

Kannada speakers, still the majority in Bangalore, feel more threatened by Tamil inroads than the French feel threatened by English.  In fact you can't exhibit films there in languages other than Kannada, even Bollywood blockbusters, and the danger of violence over language issues is real.

There are 15 official languages recognized by the Constitution in India, and Indiapress.Org offers a selection,  but even this underestimates the situation. There are newspapers in 87 languages, radio shows in 71 and 58 different languages are spoken in India's schools. There are over 1,600 dialects.

How do you serve such a market? With a closed source operating system you wait for the vendor to decide there is a market for your language, or you learn another language. With open source you create a team and get to work.

It is possible that, in time, Indians will be able to get Linux in any language they are comfortable with. It's unlikely this will happen with Windows.

Advantage, Linux.

Topic: Open Source

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8 comments
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  • I would suggest that the problem goes far beyond language

    These users need more than just language translation. Thats the simple part of localization. They need to change the basic desktop architecture to fit with their culture and expectations. And that is why free software is a perfect fit for emerging societies. Proprietary vendors will always see localization in terms of language packs. And the result will be a shift to more flexible solutions.
    George Mitchell
  • It's not that simple

    You're really oversimplified the Indian situation.

    Well-educated families in India are likely to speak:

    * The local tongue
    * Hindi (for national purposes)
    * English (it's nobody's milk tongue, so they can all use it without anyone having an edge.)
    * The father's milk tongue
    * The mother's milk tongue

    You can't just have [u]the computer[/u] localized, because among other things:

    * The parents probably need to do document work in English and Hindi
    * The kids probably need to do schoolwork in the local tongue, English, and Hindi
    * The kids probably also communicate with friends in the local tongue
    * Everyone probably communicates with their relatives in other parts of the country, using either the mother's or father's milk tongue.

    That's the first approximation. Don't forget, though, that there are a [b]lot[/b] of people in India from Malaysia, China, Europe, Arabic-speaking countries, .....
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Milk Tongue?

      I like that turn of phrase. You mean the language spoken by the relatives natively -- the milk tongue.

      Cool. I am definitely going to add it to my collection.

      And you offer up some good points that don't really distract from the main one. Which is that because it can support multiple languages easily, Linux is going to be a better choice for India.

      Did you know there are something like 34 languages spoken in Mozambique? That didn't make it into the story -- complicated it needlessly -- but the point is that localization is a global phenomenon.
      DanaBlankenhorn
      • Learned at the mother's breast

        I honestly forget where I picked up the term, but vaguely recall it being used as a term of art in sociology. It makes sense.

        I forgot to mention that the point of my post was that localization can be intensely context-sensitive, with language settings changing not only from user to user but even between tasks for the same user. It would be an awesome use for different X desktops [1] although I don't know of any window managers that allow that kind of distinction.

        Maybe one of our Indian or African friends can add that capability, eh? [i]Software libre[/i] showing off again.

        [1] I already organize my basic roles by desktop, this would be an extension of the same idea.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
  • WHat Linux means to India is reducing the piracy rate.

    At the expense of workers WORLDWIDE who create and share software in good faith.

    Not to have corporations HIJACK the software in order to make big profits from it. I didn't know stealing was ethical, but whoever thought "open source" could be pirated in such a way?

    Oh yes. India currently has a piracy rate of 74%, according to an interesting article to be found on C'Net Asia's web site.

    My next career won't be in IT. Seems pointless these days.

    Unless our entire society becomes open-source, we're only going to see more big corporations usurp Linux from the nice people who spend time freely working on it. Their blood and time; freely given to Red Hat or Novell. (ever get support from these clowns? Not for free, and you already spent $80 for a box containing the releases and a basic install routine. No, from these companies you have to shell out a lot more... not to mention "certification" costs which only prove to people you memorized a bunch of test answers in the way the company wanted you to answer them. (MCSE's are horrendously biased - and inaccurate in real-life field duty, so I don't expect anything different from other companies' tests.) Also useless costs because of offshoring...
    HypnoToad
  • let's hope they respect the gpl

    Imagine trying to reverse engineer in a language that you can't understand, or with an os changed to only support non standard code. Oh I forgot about windows.
    pesky_z
  • the dispute over Tamil in Bangalore

    The dispute over Tamil and the domination of Tamilians in Bangalore actually goes well beyond just this issue. They've had historical problems - disputes over water - how should they share the water from their common river Cauvery, etc. There are also more cultural differences between Tamilians and Kannadigas, than between Kannadigas and other south Indian communities like for example people from another neighbouring state Andhra Pradesh. Actually, Kannadigas exist peacefully with them, but not with Tamilians. The sudden IT boom in Bangalore, and the proximity to these other south Indian states, has made it more diverse, than possibly other Indian cities. Infact, I know of many IT workers in Bangalore - Tamilians, who go every weekend to their home cities in neighbouring states and return by Monday morning for work!
    harish.mallipeddi@...
  • localization - not so helpful in India

    Many foreigners when they travel around India, get amazed by the remarkable number of distinct cultures exist within India. Almost every big Indian city, possibly has its own native language (Delhi - Hindi, Mumbai - Marathi, Kolkata - Bengali, Chennai - Tamil, Bangalore - Kannada, Hyderabad - Telugu). Yes, all these people are different, they might subscribe to newspapers in their mother tongues, marry people only from their own micro-communities, etc.

    But, the point is, there has to be something which binds all these people. And, though, Hindi (being the national language) is supposed to be that unifying factor, but it doesn't turn out to be so. A lot of people from South India especially, do not speak Hindi. So, if you haven't realised, most of the time, south Indians are talking to people from North India in English. Infact, it doesn't stop just there. Within south India, if you've been travelling around, then you tend to speak the local languages there. As for me, after living in various south Indian cities, now I can talk in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and now a bit of Kannada (my parents live in Bangalore - I do not live in India anymore).

    But, interestingly, I've learned English all my life, and my English is probably far better than my grasp of the local languages. I remember once, changing my Linux desktop to an Indian language, and then struggled for an hour or so, to change it back to English, because I couldn't navigate around and find the right menu option. Finally, with a bit of help, from my mother I managed to revert it to English. Yes, this is true!

    Almost all schools and colleges in India teach in English. I'vent met a single person in India recently, who doesn't speak English (ok I agree it may not be very good), except my grandparents! Now, one more interesting fact is, around 64% of Indians are below the age of 30, and around 82% are below 44. This basically means grandparents contribute to around less than 10% or even worse. So, localisation might possibly attract only this small fraction of the society, and these possible generally do not find a need to use a PC (I said generally - there are some exceptional pro-tech grannies in India as well)! This is one more reason why theres no need to spend all these efforts on localisation in India!

    Rule of the thumb: "If you do not speak English in India, then probably you may not have had good education, and as a result you may not be able to buy a computer actually or you do not see the need to use one." (Sad as it might be, but this is true. I know some of you might want to kill me for saying this. But, this is the truth!) Go and ask Microsoft India, how many non-English versions of Windows have they managed to sell in India? or even take a look at how many non-English pirated version of Windows run in Indian PCs? I would say zero. India is not China!

    So my take on this: Localisation is not much of a use in India. I don't know why some Indians pursue it with so much of vigour - possibly its just because of their love for their language!
    harish.mallipeddi@...