Microsoft Readies Windows 7 in 10 African Languages

Microsoft Windows 7 will be translated into 10 African languages to increase usage, fight software piracy, increase use of local languages online and drive computer penetration beyond English and French, the company said.

By 2011, Windows 7 will be available in languages such as Sesotho sa Leboa, Setswana, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Afrikaans, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, kiSwahili and Amharic.

"This is about technology access in Africa in a familiar context and language that breaks down the barriers," said Mark Matunga, citizenship manager at Microsoft Eastern and Southern Africa.

Technology in Africa has tended to favor users with English or French language skills, and those who do not understand those languages are considered illiterate, regardless of whether they can read and write in their local languages. Availability in local languages is likely to lead to greater inclusion.

"This will ensure greater inclusion by allowing content generation and editing in local languages; users will be better able to express themselves and ideas through blogs, websites, news, and emails," said Francis Hook, manager at IDC East Africa.

The language interface packs raise the thorny issue of software piracy, which is rampant in Africa. It's not obvious that users will stop buying pirated software if legitimate software is available in their languages, but the move allows genuine software users to access updates and other special features.

"Piracy is more of a cultural issue than a language interface issue or a Microsoft issue -- cultural respect to intellectual property is important," added Matunga.

The availability is likely to lead to greater penetration but even deeper depths of piracy because the software pirates are likely to market their products more vigorously because of the language interfaces. Currently, there are few African countries that recognize intellectual property and recognize software piracy as a crime.

While the translations may not help Microsoft fight piracy, they will increase the presence of African language content online and drive more people to articulate issues in the languages they know best. Currently, African language accents, letters and editing functions are missing in most products, making it hard for people to use their languages online.

"The localization will most certainly increase content from Africa by allowing expression in local languages, it will help with the survival and continued relevant of African languages amidst globalization," added IDC's Hook.

For instance, in Tanzania where Kiswahili is one of the main official languages, having MS Office in Kiswahili is a big boost, while other countries like Ethiopia have unique needs given their Amharic language (and unique keyboards and software coding,), and such localization can only help further adoption in such countries, said Hook.

While Microsoft's Matunga admitted that it will entrench the company's position in Africa, he also believes that localization will lead to growth and development, and preservation of African Languages.

"Language has the power to draw more people into a product and internet use more than advertising can do. People want to see and feel a product that represents their community and settings," said Hezron Mogambi, a linguistics lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

Content creation is also likely to rise online with other tools such as Google Translate benefiting from increased users. Windows 7 is likely to be available early next year in languages such as Amharic and Kiswahili, with Microsoft targeting 2011 for the launch of the majority of African languages.

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