Since its introduction in Windows 2000, Multilingual User Interface technology, or MUI, has allowed customers to install additional display languages on their Windows PCs and to switch between them. But for the majority of users, the language you got when you booted up your Windows PC for the first time was likely the one you were stuck with. For Windows 8, we have reimagined the display language experience, focusing on making additional display languages available to all Windows users, making them super easy to find and install, and allowing users to switch between them. This blog entry unveils the changes we’ve been making in Windows to achieve this.

February 21 marks UNESCO's International Mother Language Day.  This year's theme is "Mother tongue instruction and inclusive education" and we think making sure Windows can be used in the language you want is one way we can contribute to this goal.  For more information from UNESCO please see the full site.

Ian Hamilton, a program manager on our Windows International team, authored this post.
--Steven


With Windows 8, we’ve changed how we think about languages from a "local-market feature" to a "feature for everyone everywhere," and have made it a priority for you to be able to work in any language you want, from any Windows 8 PC. If you can’t read the text that Windows presents to you, you can’t use Windows to its fullest potential. That’s why we are so excited to bring powerful, easy-to-use language features to more users than ever in Windows 8.

In some countries, people can purchase PCs with a variety of languages preinstalled. With Windows 8, users will be able install additional display languages beyond those preinstalled languages. This means that the language of the PC no longer needs to be a major consideration when deciding on which model to buy. If the language you want is not preinstalled on the PC you like, you can now install the one you want.

But for some families, allowing the installation of an additional display language might not be enough, as they also need the ability to switch between languages. To illustrate the point, let’s look at the United States (where historically we have been less sensitive to these issues than in most other places around the world). We know from 2009 census data that 80% of Americans speak English at home. The other 20% speak something other than English. Not surprisingly, 35,468,501 (12.41% of the total) speak Spanish at home. Some PCs sold in the US have had English and Spanish preinstalled on them. On those PCs, the user picks one language or the other, and the one not chosen is wiped off the hard drive after first run. Feedback showed that customers loved having a Spanish language PC, but what they really needed was Spanish and English, and the ability to switch between them. A subsequent study by an outside firm confirmed these results. In many cases, parents in the home spoke Spanish, and their children were speaking English. The ability to have a Spanish user account for the parents, and an English one for the kids—or at least the ability to switch a single account’s display language back and forth between English and Spanish—was the way to delight these customers.

New, easier way to get languages

The new Language preferences section in Control Panel is the new one-stop place to find all Windows display languages in Windows 8. In the past, some languages were available through Windows Update, and others were distributed through the Microsoft Download Center.

The reasons for separating the languages into two groups and their separated distribution channels made no sense to our customers. It wasn’t their fault. This classification of languages only made sense to our internal teams. This confusion was a great motivator for re-imagining Language preferences in Control Panel. We will no longer ask customers to understand these nuances. Looking at the end-to-end experience, it made sense to build an entirely new experience around the acquisition of new languages. Here’s what that looks like in Windows 8:

Dialog heading: Change your language preferences / Link: Add a language / English (United States) is the only item in list of languages

Language preferences in Control Panel

The main view of Language preferences shows you which languages are enabled on your system. You can see that on this system, English (United States) display language is installed and enabled. The keyboard layout is also US. Language preferences is the one place to go to add or change display languages, input language, and other functionality. We’ll be talking more about that in future blog posts.

To add another language to your Windows, simply click the “Add a language” link above the first tile to bring up this list.

 

Add a language / Use the search box to find more. A long, scrolling list of languages are shown which the user can select from.

List of languages you can add to Windows

Select the language you want from the list. In these screenshots, I’m selecting Hindi. This list is long. Luckily, it’s filterable. Just type the first few letters of the language you want into the search box, and the list is narrowed for you. This search filter works in both the native script as seen on the tile, and the localized name of the language.

The Language preferences page now has two languages listed, English and Hindi, with an Options command for each.

Hindi language has been added

Once selected, the language is added to your language list, but does not download and install the display language until you choose to do so. To add it as a display language, click Options.

Hindi / Windows display language / A language pack for Hindi is available for download / Link: Download and install language pack / Input method / Hindi Traditional / Commands: Preview or Remove / Add an input method

The Options page for this language shows the status of the language pack

If a language pack is available for your language, you will see the link to “Download and install language pack.”

A progress bar is shown on a pop up dialog. It says "The updates are being downloaded and installed."

You can monitor progress of the download and installation

To switch to the newly installed display language, you’ll need to make it your primary language, by clicking “Make this the primary language,” as seen in the next screenshot.

Commands available for Hindi: Make this the primary language / Uninstall display language

Make your new language the primary language on the PC

Two languages now listed: English and Hindi, with Hindi selected as the primary language

Hindi is now the primary language on this PC

It’s as simple as that. Pretty cool, huh? No more hunting around on websites looking for the languages you want. They’re right here. If you are currently using Windows Vista or Windows 7 Ultimate, you probably see 34 or 35 languages as optional updates in your Windows Update UI. These won’t show up there anymore in Windows 8. Instead, we’ve consolidated the languages in one place for you: Language preferences in Control Panel. Language preferences will be a clean, unified control for all Windows display languages moving forward.

More languages than ever before

Microsoft will continue to be a market leader in language support with an additional 14 new display languages for Windows 8, bringing the total to 109 languages. (For reference, here are the 95 languages in which Windows 7 is currently available). With these additional languages, Windows will provide a native language version of Windows for over 4.5 billion people.

It is important to note that a display language in Windows is a massive undertaking—Windows needs to support the fonts, localized text, and input methods to support a user experience that encompasses almost two million words. That’s roughly the same number of words contained in two full sets of the Harry Potter series of books.

We are proud to announce the addition of English for the United Kingdom to the list of Windows display languages. We admit that this is something we should have done a long time ago. Windows users in the UK have gotten by with the US English version of Windows, and while we Americans knew this was not their favourite, that is clearly no defence. We believe that this version of Windows will also be widely used in India, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and many other places.

We are releasing English for the United Kingdom as a standalone language. Standalone languages contain all the user interface components needed to be independent versions of Windows. Standalone languages can be used by OEMs to image a PC, or can be purchased as boxed software.

The release of English for the United Kingdom is also a trial run for us. Adding a second language under an already existing primary language code—ISO 3166-2 EN—poses some engineering challenges for us (which is why this took us so long to do). We have had to pay attention to the language fallback chain, for instance. If there are no localized resources available at any time, we fall back to secondary choices and then to English. That used to be English US. But, now there’s English UK as well. Which do we fall back to? So far, planning for these scenarios is looking good.

We are also continuing to broaden our language support with the addition of 13 new Language Interface Packs (LIPs). Language Interface Packs install over the top of a standalone Windows display language. These lightweight packs contain localized user interface elements for the most commonly-used Windows features. The new languages offered include Punjabi (Pakistan), Sindhi (Pakistan), Central Kurdish (Iraq), Uyghur (People’s Republic of China), Belarusian (Belarus), Kinyarwanda (Rwanda), Tigrinya (Ethiopia), Tajik (Tajikistan), Wolof (Senegal), K’iche’ (Guatemala), Scottish Gaelic (United Kingdom), Cherokee (United States), Valencian (Spain).

This set of languages includes language coverage for emerging markets that are experiencing great growth in PC usage: Punjabi (Pakistan), Sindhi (Pakistan), Central Kurdish (Iraq), Uyghur (People’s Republic of China), Belarusian (Belarus), Kinyarwanda (Rwanda), Tigrinya (Ethiopia), Tajik (Tajikistan), Wolof (Senegal), K’iche’ (Guatemala); and a few languages that are preferred by groups of customers in developed markets: Cherokee (United States), Scottish Gaelic (United Kingdom), Valencian (Spain).

While these packages remain different in how they’re installed, users will not need to understand those differences. Language preferences in Control Panel is the one place where they’ll go to get new Windows display languages, and it handles download and installation seamlessly.

Display languages are just the beginning

Most of this post has focused on Windows display languages—the language of the Windows user interface on your computer. We have focused our language efforts in Windows 8 on:

  • Enabling more users than ever to install additional languages on their Windows PCs and switch between them.
  • Building a Language preferences area in Control Panel that is an easy-to-use central location for all display languages.
  • Making significant additions to our language list by adding one standalone language and 13 Language Interface Packs (LIPs).

We’re super excited about these improvements in Windows, and we hope you’ll like them as well.

But display languages are only one part of the overall language story for Windows 8. In a future blog entry we will tell you about improvements in text entry, locale support, and other critical pieces of the Windows 8 story. Let us know if there are other language-related topics you’d like to hear more about.

Thank you,

Ian Hamilton