Microsoft steps up localised software initiative

Microsoft has said it will work with governments and community groups to make Windows XP and Office 2003 available in more...

Microsoft has said it will work with governments and community groups to make Windows XP and Office 2003 available in more languages, a move that could be seen as a response to the advent of open-source products.

Local and regional governments under a local language programme can localise Windows XP Home and Professional and Office 2003 through a Language Interface Pack (LIP), said Microsoft, which will work with governments and communities to develop these packs.

A LIP can be installed as a layer on top of Windows XP with Service Pack 1 and the Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint applications that are part of Office Standard Edition 2003.

"LIP does not offer you 100% localisation, but gets you about 80% of the way there," said Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for Windows at Microsoft. "There is a whole bunch of languages that we're not localised in. This is a way to do better in getting coverage and getting more localisation."

LIPs have already been used in some regions to localise software. In India, Microsoft worked with local governments, academia and language experts to make Windows XP and Office available in Hindi. By the end of the year, LIPs for Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Gujarati will also be available.

Microsoft hoped the programme will make its products available in 40 more languages. At present, Microsoft offers desktop software in about 40 languages. Other languages to be added are Amharic (for Ethiopia) and Ukrainian.

But beyond expanding its reach, the Local Language Program may also have the goal of pleasing international governments. It joins other Microsoft initiatives geared toward governments, especially in emerging markets.

It has the earmarks of a response to a competitive threat from open source software, but Microsoft has altruistic reasons, too, said Paul DeGroot, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft.

"It is not merely a defensive response to Linux. The world is becoming more digital and there is good cause to bring more people into the digital world and give them the advantages of technology in their own language," he added.

However, DeGroot is concerned that the language packs only work with Windows XP and Office 2003, the latest versions of Microsoft's desktop operating system and productivity software, meaning it would be of little use to people with older hardware.

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service

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