Localizing free software, for a free
Indlinux.org is a group of people who passionately believe that the benefits of information technology must be widely and freely available to the Indian masses. We are a group of people who combine skills in written scripts, free/open source technologies and technology journalism to make this happen.
WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?
Today, almost all software and operating systems and websites in India are in the English language. Since English is a language spoken by less than 10 percent of India’s population (generally considered to be the language of the affluent) language is a significant barrier for the other 90 percent of India.
This is creating a new class of people who live in what can be called as “Information Poverty” even as technology becomes cheaper and cheaper.
To destroy this barrier we need to create a national-level, collaborative effort to localise Linux to Indian languages.
WHAT ARE THE REASONS THAT MAKE INDLINUX NECESSARY?
1) Indian linguistic groups have to wake up to the fact that their languages will become outdated if they do not become a part of the digital age.
2) Since culture is embedded in language to a significant degree, the ability to compute in one’s native language can give Indian culture a significant boost. We believe that technology, particularly, the Internet can be one of the finest means of recording, archiving and propagating Indian culture.
3) India’s annual per-capita income is $390 (Rs 17,355) while operating systems cost $40 (Rs 3,500). Word processing software etc. cost even more. Free/open source software are therefore extremely important in the Indian context.
There are several significant economic and cultural reasons for choosing Linux as a platform.
Free operating systems like Linux have several advantages for developing countries. Most software packages today are developed in the west and then sold in developing countries where the parameters of affordability are completely different. This problem does not arise with Linux because it is free.
There are cultural reasons that make Linux even more attractive. The existing user interface paradigm of files and folders evolved because computers were essentially designed for a western audience familiar with real-life files and folders. There is no reason to assume why the same paradigm should apply to a trader in Tamil Nadu or a farmer in Madhya Pradesh.
The openness of Linux allows local linguistic groups to customise user interfaces in ways that are far more culturally sensitive than any centrally controlled approach. Linguistic groups that may be considered too small a market by vendors can also take their destiny in their own hands by customising the Linux interface to their own needs. We therefore believe that Linux is a very attractive long-term solution to India’s computing needs. We chose Linux over other free/open OSes because of the popularity of the platform with developers.
HOW CAN YOU CONTRIBUTE?
Localising the user interface of Linux to all the 18 official Indian languages will involve changing the menus and help-text to Indian languages and creating a whole stack of applications and tools (word processors, browsers, spell-checkers etc.) to enable computing in Indian languages. This is a task that involves both technical and linguistic challenges. For example, should “File” simply be called “File” but written in Indian scripts because it is now a part of popular usage? Or should we find Indian language equivalents? In some cases it makes little sense. For example, how many people know that the Hindi word for computer is “sanghanak”? Or what is the Hindi equivalent for “Internet”? A very sensitive balance has to be struck between practicality and preserving Indian languages. To achieve this goal we are looking for people with either of the two skills (if you have both these skills, that’s fantastic!):
1) Technical skills: The project needs a variety of technical skills such as X-Windows/GNOME/KDE, font development, kernel support, locale support etc.
2) Language skills: You must be fluent with the script of at least one Indian language and be willing to contribute to the task of Indianising the menus and help text of Linux. We request linguistic user groups and patriotic individuals to come forward and help us in this task.
Lets make this dream to reality…..