Maggie Wilderotter, senior vice president of the World Wide Public Sector for Microsoft, is focused on the company’s international efforts with government. The programs in education and security that she leads reflect Microsoft’s global commitment to working with governments worldwide to develop initiatives that address their specific challenges in meeting the needs of their citizens, including a new initiative called the Local Language program. To learn more about these efforts, PressPass spoke with Wilderotter and Dato’ Hj. A. Aziz Deraman, director-general of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, the national language authority of Malaysia and an initial Local Language Program partner that is implementing a new program to enhance governments’ access to technology.
PressPass: What is the Local Language Program?
Wilderotter: For many years now, we’ve worked with communities and governments to provide people of the world with the tools they need to utilize the boundless resources of today’s technology in reaching their potential. The Local Language program is a new initiative designed to provide people with access to technology in a language that is familiar to them and which honors their cultural distinctions. Microsoft, in partnership with government and academic institutions worldwide, will concurrently develop 40 languages in the next 12 months for Microsoft Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003. Our hope is that the LLP will better people’s personal lives and further develop the local information technology economies of their communities.
There are as many as 6,000 languages spoken in the world today, and perhaps another 5,000 dialects. Through the Local Language Program, we’re partnering with governments and local language specialists to extend the benefits of Microsoft technology to new users with interfaces in their own language. Participants in the program can localize both Windows XP and Office 2003 to a specific language interface through a Language Interface Pack (LIP) that may be downloaded free of charge. LIPs enable users to install a local language version as a “skin” on top of an existing installation of Windows and standard Microsoft Office applications — Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint. Microsoft has found enthusiastic government support to further the development stages of the LIP technology.
Press Pass: One of the early LLP partners, the National Language Authority of Malaysia, recently completed its implementation of a Language Interface. What kind of impact will the Local Language Program have in your country, Mr. Deraman?
Deraman: People in the rural areas of my country are at a great technological disadvantage in relation to urban dwellers. The availability of Windows in Bahasa Melayu — the most widely used language in Malaysia and in many other parts of Southeast Asia — will accelerate IT literacy among the Malay-speaking community and help to bridge the digital divide. Having a Bahasa Melayu interface will empower many more of our people, allowing them to become comfortable with and productive in using technology.
PressPass: Is the LLP expected to have a similar impact in other countries?
Wilderotter: Yes, this is a way to put very powerful tools in the hands of people who up until now could not bridge the language barrier. Microsoft is working closely with many regional and local governments and universities to increase opportunities for people in a wide range of regions, cultures and languages. This will bring the benefits of technology to their lives. Offering access to even very basic computer tasks will open up new worlds for many communities. In Iceland, for example, school children will be able to work on PCs in their native language. There will also be expanded opportunities for adult and continuing education. The LLP provides remarkable tools for teaching indigenous languages and preserving local cultures. We see this toolset enabling minority language groups to participate more fully in the civic life of their communities and to benefit from the economic growth associated with the expanding global IT economy.
In India, our collaboration with the language community has resulted in the localization of Hindi, and an additional 14 languages will be localized in the next 24 months. We’re partnering with the language authority in the new Canadian territory of Nunavut to preserve and promote the Inuktitut language, spoken by approximately 28,000 people. In Eastern Europe we’re working with the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine to produce a localization for the Ukrainian language. State-of-the-art IT is developing rapidly in the Ukraine, and we are very pleased that this partnership and the resulting language implementation will provide additional momentum for building the local IT economy.
PressPass: The Language Interface Pack (LIP) is a key technology and major component of the Local Language Program. How are the LIPs developed?
Wilderotter: Standardizing technical terminology is an important first step to developing a local IT industry. Each new Language Interface Pack is built using a glossary created by the Community Glossary Project, the other major component of the Local Language Program. This is a cooperative initiative with local governments, universities and other groups in smaller language communities worldwide. Using web tools, a project moderator and volunteer translators create and define technical terminology for their own language. The terminology is drawn from words used in the user interface of Windows and Office. The use of local volunteers to build the glossary allows technical IT terms to be standardized and agreed upon by that community. The volunteers contributing to the glossaries are helping to promote and preserve their languages while they acquire valuable technology experience that can be used to build the tech sector of their respective countries.
PressPass: So the LIPs are entirely a product of local community effort?
Wilderotter: That’s right. The group that is managing the glossary project, often a local government entity, selects the project moderator. The moderator sets the schedule for the glossary work, reviews submissions and monitors an online discussion room. At the date established by the moderator, all translation suggestions are reviewed for each term. Based on community input and with an eye toward maintaining linguistic excellence, the moderator selects the best suggestion, then locks that term. This work continues until all terms are locked and the glossary is complete.
Microsoft then completes the build and testing of the LIP, thereby finalizing its release. The whole process typically takes about three months. The new LIP is made available as a free download from the Microsoft Download Center and is easily installed on licensed copies of Windows XP and Office 2003. Third parties, such as governments, local language authorities, and universities, may also distribute the LIP. I think we’re going to see the capabilities of the Language Interface Packs allowing not only broad localization of our products, but also seeding independent software development. I encourage any third party interested in developing a LIP to contact their local Microsoft office.
PressPass: How will this program change the way governments and their citizens interact?
Deraman: My government is rapidly moving toward e-government programs, and our business community is introducing e-banking and other commercial products. The Ministry of Women and Family Development in Malaysia recently launched the eWanita Teleworking Center aimed at empowering single mothers and housewives in rural areas to earn a living using technology. And the government has launched a program called MySchoolNet, which aims to connect all the schools in Malaysia through a broadband infrastructure. The Local Language Program will do much in Malaysia to provide our students, and eventually most of our citizens, a shared technology experience through an interface that is both familiar and friendly.
Wilderotter: There’s tremendous empowerment in working in your own language — especially as the information revolution has made sweeping changes in the way governments communicate with and serve their citizens.
The opportunities are endless. With the LLP and a localized interface for its citizens, governments can pursue a digital access strategy where previously it did not make sense — opening new opportunities to increase online document access, form submission, and other means of making government more efficient and responsive.
PressPass: How do you see the LLP contributing to the development of Malaysia’s economy?
Deraman: The development of the Bahasa Melayu LIP now enables local companies to provide technology solutions, particularly for small businesses and cottage industries, in the national language. We’re excited about the potential of our local IT companies developing more products or services that are Bahasa Melayu-enabled, such as handwriting recognition software and even speech recognition programs. The next steps will be led by the market. I believe certain quarters like education, government and perhaps telecommunications will push for IT products or services in the national language.
PressPass: What about benefits to education?
Wilderotter: Fundamental to learning in the information age is exposure to and comfort with technology. Imagine not having access to technology in your own language: This is the reality for far too many. The Local Language Program addresses this problem. It brings technology to the most basic level of comfort — one’s own language — encouraging participation in the community and the world beyond. This program opens up so many new opportunities for local organizations, including government agencies and the private sector, to reach out to a community that previously had limited — or altogether lacked — basic interaction with a PC. We are very pleased to be working with partners like Mr. Deraman in Malaysia, and we hope that his experience encourages other government and academic organizations to get involved. This is an excellent example of a program that not only helps bridge the digital divide but also advances Microsoft’s most important missions — leveraging technology to help individuals and communities reach their potential.
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