Countries such as China, Iceland and Estonia are already creating localised versions of the Linux operating system and its applications, and now it is the turn of Wales.
Wales-based programmer Kevin Donnelly is taking advantage of the fact that anyone is allowed to modify and redistribute Linux to do the work of localisation himself, with the help of any interested Welsh speakers. He is soliciting translations of key files from the general public through a new Web site, kyfieithu.co.uk, and using the results to create Welsh-language versions of the open-source KDE and Gnome user interfaces.
"If I wanted to get a Welsh version of Windows, it would mean a lot of lobbying and probably spending a lot of money to get it done," Donnelly said. "With free software it cuts through all that." Donnelly appeared at this week's Linux User and Developer Expo in Birmingham to raise interest in the project.
Using a simple PHP-based browser interface, volunteers can add the Welsh equivalents to the files using a standard Web browser. Donnelly then turns these portable-object files into machine-object files that the interface software can understand.
"It's a very simple process, so you don't have to be interested in the technology to get involved," Donnelly said. He hopes to get users involved who are simply interested in promoting the Welsh language.
In three months, Donnelly claims the project has translated about 12 percent of the KDE user interface; if translators can continue at the same rate, the final results the initial results will probably be shipping with KDE and Gnome by the end of this year, with completion about a year after that, Donnelly said. Donnelly has also translated some KDE applications, including the KESEG geometry program.
"There are 70,000 text strings to be translated in KDE," Donnelly said. "The main problem is keeping your motivation."
KDE is used as the default in some prominent Linux distributions, such as SuSE Linux.
Linux, and other open-source software, is distributed under a licence that allows anyone to modify and redistribute the code, as long as the modifications are returned to the developer community. China is taking advantage of these licence terms to attempt to lessen its dependence on the Western software industry, while small countries are able to produce local-language versions of programs where it might be uneconomical for a commercial software company to do so.
Kyfieithu.co.uk takes its name from the Welsh word "cyfieithu", or "translate", but uses an initial "k" to fit in with the naming conventions of KDE applications such as KMail, Konqueror and KPilot.