Esperanto attitude needed for next-gen application development

I am just in the process of upgrading from the 2004 version to Microsoft Office for Mac 2008 (why on earth do we Mac users only get a look in every four years!) and I’m wondering whether to take Sun’s StarOffice 9 into consideration now that it has native support for Mac OS X.

I am just in the process of upgrading from the 2004 version to Microsoft Office for Mac 2008 (why on earth do we Mac users only get a look in every four years!) and I’m wondering whether to take Sun’s StarOffice 9 into consideration now that it has native support for Mac OS X.

Sun is channeling this product as ‘suitable for small- to medium-sized businesses’ (well, why not after all?), but more interestingly it is said to include extensions that, “Make it easier to perform common tasks such as editing PDF files, creating reports, blogging and publishing wikis.”

This announcement probably wouldn’t have caught my eye if it hadn’t also mentioned the fact that Sun is also offering Asian language support in the form of the counterpart product StarSuite 9. Having recently worked on a project looking at Microsoft’s Language Interface Packs and having lived abroad for over a decade in the Middle East and Africa, I’m inherently interested in any project that extends application development to a multilingual audience.

I can’t think of a single developer convention I’ve been to in the last five years that has included a track entitled: “Developing at the core for multilingual extensions in the global marketplace.” That sounds like a real track title doesn’t it? I’ve yet to attend that session though.

IMAGE DESCRIPTION' Free image source: Wikimedia Commons

Encompassing an “Esperanto attitude” and building in multilingual capabilities to Office-style applications (and other apps for that matter I guess) appears to follow certain themes. If you want to develop for subset dialects of Spanish such as Basque and Galician – you need to develop in Spanish first as the base language and then build extensions on top of that.

With the potential for so many idiomatic inaccuracies in an area like this, perhaps the fact that StarOffice 9 is completely open sourced (with the same binaries as OpenOffice.org 3.0) could mean that user contributions will help iron out any incongruent language issues. I wondered what exactly they meant by ‘Asian’ language support and Sun me gave the below note.

“StarSuite is available in Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean and Japanese. Basically if you need one of the languages above you have to get StarSuite - and also note that with StarSuite you get Western fonts so you can use English as well. No Hindi, which would actually be a StarOffice language (Arabic will be out in March/April as a SO language),” said Iyer Venkatesan, senior product manager, StarOffice, Sun Microsystems

Sun says there is also strong support for Microsoft Office (for both legacy and new OOXML files)… yeah, but I send Mac Word documents with embedded images to people (those, uh, PC users) all the time and they can’t open them. Will this really fix the problem?

Anyway, back to the issue at hand. Do we need to be more international in our general attitude towards software application development? The answer has to be yes doesn’t it? We know that it’s not just about slapping a new GUI on top of the core application to produce a new product. So do we need to define plateaus in lifecycle development cycles that pinpoint the appropriate point for internationalisation to take place? If we do – you don’t read too much about it do you?

Anyway, two nations divided by a common language as we are so often described; here’s my favourite definition of the difference between English and American from Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island (paraphrased because I can’t quite remember it)…

In England: we see a group of old age pensioners getting off a day-trip coach in their elastic-belted trousers and trainers enjoying prawn sandwiches for lunch.

In America: we see a bunch of senior citizens disembarking a Greyhound in sweat pants and sneakers enjoying shrimp subs for a snack before lunch.