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Internationalizing Microsoft Products

Internationalizing Microsoft Products

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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).


  • How about a localized version for Canada. What I mean is one that has both English & French.

    For example, if a French user sends an email to an English Exchange server and it bounces, have the NDR in both English & French.
  • We don't have an explicit EN-CA version because Microsoft doesn't localize to sublanguages (we don't do EN-US, EN-UK and EN-CA for example). We DO respect culture differences beyond the translation though, things like currency symbol, etc.

    In the case of an NDR, I believe that the NDR language is a function of the MUA - the NDR is transmitted as a standardized NDR message (I forget the RFC currently), it's up to the client application to figure out how to display it.

    For Longhorn, we'll be supporting MUI technologies which will allow multiple languages to simultaneously exist on a single machine, so your FR and EN system can become a reality.
  • Where's the Ebonics version man? What about the southern localized version of "Winders"? Where's the dudeified version for Southern California natives?

    Until Microsoft addresses these vital markets, I can't believe that they are truly serious about localization!
  • How about Klingon? ;) I wonder what code page that is...
  • I'm waiting on the Piksburgh version of Winders myself. I can't wait until I read "yins" on a dialog box.

  • Mike:

  • Heh, I can imagine the socal translation now...

    "Dude, this program TOTALLY blew up."

    Or the Valley Girl one:

    "OhmyGAWD I can't beLIEVE how gnarly this program was! We had to, like bag its face 'cuz it was SO grody!"
  • And then the joke about “Windows XP in Goblin’s translation was released” might come true :)

    (Side note: Goblin makes unofficial dubs of movies into Russian. The motto is “Obscene language must be translated as obscene language”. Goblin’s translations are regarded as more accurate than the official ones throughout the country.)
  • There's a list of upcoming language localizations at
  • When I am looking at the list, I am a bit surprised that Czech made it into the first-class list 15 (or how long it was) years ago. When I compare Ukraine (not to mention India) with Czechia, we are indeed a little bit smaller. :-) Is that because we are understood as an IT-developed country and Ukraine not?
  • is there any specific dll that i can load to get localized OK and Cancel etc etc etc...
  • I'm not sure there isn't a sublanguage distinction between Latin American Spanish and "Spanish" Spanish (the one spoken in Spain) products. There are a lot of differences in vocabulary for quite fundamental terms (e.g. "archivo" vs. "fichero" for file, "computadora" vs. "ordenador" for computer, etc.).
  • How about a Farsi version?
  • Art, I believe you can set the Language of Windows using the regional control panel applet. That should change all the text, including OK and cancel. If not, you need to find a copy of windows localized to your language. In Longhorn this gets better (language support is handled differently with the MUI support).

    karan, I'm not sure - I'm sure it's on the list but...
  • Thanks larry but this was for programs not using common dialog boxes

    Keep up the excellent blogs as it has become a daily read :)
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