The Seattle Times has an interesting article today about Microsoft’s efforts to extend beyond the “basic 30-or-so” languages we already support into languages with somewhat smaller market shares (Urdu, Kiswahili, Nepalese etc).
It’s actually cool, and I’m really happy that we’re extending our outreach to locales where there’s relatively few speakers (ok, Hindi doesn’t have relatively few speakers).
But I do need to take issue with at least one comment in the article:
Microsoft began localizing its software in different languages about 15 years ago.
We’ve been localizing our products for as long as I’ve worked at Microsoft. At a minimum, Microsoft’s first Japanese field office opened in 1977 (ASCII-Microsoft), 27 years ago, our Japanese Subsidiary was founded in 1986 (18 years ago). All of these produced localized products for the Japanese market. In 1985, I was working on MS-DOS 4.0, which was shipped localized in French to Goupil. I still remember a demo of Arabic Windows 2.0 from the mid 1980’s, the person doing the demo started writing in Arabic (a Right-To-Left language) and the text appeared to the right of the cursor (as would be expected). He then got a HUGE round of applause when he switched from typing in Arabic to English (a LTR language) and the text started appearing to the LEFT of the cursor.
One of the stock interview questions a friend of mine used to ask was about how you handle cursor up and cursor down motions in GWBasic – it dates from at least 1982.
So we’ve been doing localization since just about forever; I don’t know why they picked 15 years ago for the Times article.
Localization has ALWAYS been a big deal to Microsoft; it’s literally illegal to sell non localized products in some countries (don’t ask, I don’t know the specifics). And since we want to ship our software everywhere J…
And I’m REALLY glad that we’re finally targeting the smaller languages, it’s cool. I also love the mechanism that’s being used to do the localization. Instead of localization being done in a centralized location, the localization is being done by local groups – so instead of Microsoft having to have native speakers of the various languages, we’re engaging communities in those countries to produce the localized content.
We currently have language packs available for Windows XP in Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Estonian, Hindi, Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Serbian (Cyrillic), Serbian (Latin), Thai, and Ukrainian. There’s a similar list for Office (only in Catalan or Norwegian currently though).