The Path to Productivity - Bengali Localization in India

"I'm Sayamindu Dasgupta, a student and FOSS enthusiast from the Eastern part of India. I am involved with a number of organizations inclusive the FSF India, GNOME, AnkurBangla, etc. However, my first love is always AnkurBangla," shares Sayamindu. "It's an umbrella group for handling all the work related to support for the Bangla (Bengali) language in FOSS. When we started out, our goal was to have 'Bangla support in popular Xserver based applications'. Along the course of the project, it was extended to include other interesting tools like having Bangla spellcheckers, Optical Character Recognition, Text to Speech engines, etc. Moreover, we had recognized the need for FOSS advocacy as well, and some of us right now are quite famous as FOSS advocates in our region."

Immediate applications, "I personally see the greatest application of Bangla localization in education, especially in school education. Children learn best when the material is presented in their mother language, thus localized software is an ideal tool for education in such scenarios. Another application of localized software is in the area of electronic governance, for example, in Government to Citizen (G2C) kiosks and public service delivery through the Internet, etc".

Developing the right process, "AnkurBangla is a very loosely managed project - with a lot of different sub projects. We communicate via mailing lists and use tools like SVN, CVS, etc to handle our source code. The bulk of our work is translation and we usually do translation reviews in the mailing list itself. We usually follow the schedules of various projects like GNOME, OpenOffice.org, etc for the various translation projects. For our software projects (right now, mainly machine translation tool), we use the release early, release often policy".

Building a real castle, "In India, we are working on a project called CASTLE (Computer Aided School Teaching Learning Environment) which is basically a combination of localized software running on thin client machines (LTSP) in the madrashahs of our state. At present we are talking with a large bank and trying to figure out an agreement where they will be giving us a large number of their old PCs for recycling/reuse. A large number of users are also using Bangla OpenOffice.org, and I have even seen printers specifying that they will accept Bangla page layouts done in OpenOffice.org."

Creating the right impact, "Localization is a top priority set forth by the Government of India right now, and we are considered to be one of the leading experts in local language technology for Bangla. The people know us and especially people from the FOSS sector. There is a large number of people that are working with Bangla OpenOffice.org, and I have heard people being very satisfied with the bug free nature of OpenOffice.org (compared to other proprietary Bangla word processors)."

There is always a lesson in life, "We have learnt many lessons from our efforts including that it is difficult to keep people motivated in a localization project where the bulk of the work done is translation of a particular language. If we need to do deployment, we need to get widely recognized first, and we need to do a lot of advocacy for the masses. It is also difficult for people who are already using non-localized software to switch to localized versions of a software. The best idea is to target first time learners as they are sustainable users of FOSS."

State of affairs, "We have a basic spellchecker, a basic machine translator and I am working on a text to speech engine for adding localized accessibility support to FOSS. A member of our group is also working on an OCR (Optical Character Recognition). One of the unique aspects of our localization project is an archival project (I don't know of any other localization project that does something similar) where we have put online digital versions of copyright expired works in Bangla (like Bangla Project Gutenberg). But all of this is done manually and we need a OCR fast. With respect to translation, we have almost finished core GNOME. Jamil from Ankur is doing a fantastic job on OpenOffice.org and there are people who have translated XFCE and Firefox".

The challenge, "For me personally, I do it just for fun (mainly), I also guess that someone should do it for his own language and I don't have any problems if I have to be that guy"!

author: Fouad Bajwa