But, dear 3PO, at least it’s making an attempt. Which is more than can be said for certain organisations, in spite of the recognized importance of good communication. Let me take you back a few years…
Most developers will already know what I mean with the OpenOffice to LibreOffice fork. For the rest of humanity, the short version goes something like this: StarOffice (then owned by Sun Microsystems) is made Open Source back in 2000 to counter the dominance of Microsoft Office. Called it OpenOffice and hey presto, there was a free alternative to Microsoft Office. Then Oracle buys Sun Microsystems and suddently trouble is afoot. I won’t even bother to try and dissect who did what to whom and who was right or wrong. The short of it is, most of the community upped sticks, took a “copy” of the then version of OpenOffice and set up a rival project called LibreOffice. That’s what’s called a “fork”.
Oracle then divests itself of OpenOffice by donating it to the Apache Foundation but that’s not so relevant here.
What IS relevant is they way in which this was all done. From the early days of OpenOffice, there were lots of translation teams, including a lot of “small” languages because normally languages like Tibetan, Bodo and Oromo don’t even get a look in the door of proprietary software houses. So they put in lot of time and effort into translating OpenOffice into their languages. To do so, they use an online tool called Pootle. Like a big set of tables with stuff to be translated on the one side and your translations on the other and remembers bits you already translated. It obviously gets more complicated than that but that’s Pootle (or indeed any translation memory) in a nutshell. Ok, neat.
I joined OpenOffice late in 2010 when I got fed up with the Gaelic translation of OpenOffice having fallen several releases behind. Although technically legal under the OpenOffice license, the people who had been paid to translate OpenOffice into Gaelic (a company called Cànan) did what’s normally frowned upon – instead of sharing the translated strings with the Pootle server of OpenOffice, they built their own installation packages and distributed those from their own servers and via LTS (today called Education Scotland). In essence, sitting on the translations like a mother hen on its eggs. Your guess is as good as mine as to why. Anyway, the upshot was that I had to start from scratch again. Given I also used the chance to ensure the terminology aligned with the rest of the Gaelic software universe, perhaps not a bad thing but a lot of unnecessary work nonetheless. But regular sleep is for wimps.
So, there I was steaming ahead, when rumours of this new LibreOffice project reached me. To cover all bases, I also sign up for that project on the recommendation of a friend. But I continued my translation over on OpenOffice as I’d already started there. I reach the 2/3 mark when suddenly, the OpenOffice Pootle server goes dead on a Friday or Saturday I think it was. Not to worry, it’s probably just a glitch I tell myself. Yeah right. It never came to life again. Ever. No matter how many emails I posted to the mailing lists, nothing. Not even a response. Neither on the lists nor, thinking it might be more diplomatic, off the lists.
Luckily, I had just taken a backup the day before. Very lucky indeed, a total fluke as I’m not normally that regular in making backups of stuff I figure other folk are backing up. So I did manage to migrate over to LibreOffice fairly unscathed but nonetheless scathing. If not for myself, for the other teams who may not have been so lucky. And counting in at about 100,000 words, it’s not just a piece of cake doing that from scratch.
But wait, it gets better… Oracle donated the whole project to Apache, remember? Well, Apache are still trying to figure out what the most recent set of translations are and how to get the whole thing up and running again.
More than a year on, I’m still seething about it (as you may have guessed). Perhaps the developer mailing lists were all abuzz with the impending shutdown. But most translators don’t follow the development lists, there’s only so much mail an inbox can take. I don’t know. All I know is that on the translation lists, no-one warned about the shutdown. Which would have been – at the very least – the decent thing to do because whatever storms were brewing on the development side of OpenOffice, the translation list was concerned with its main aim – translation, not politics.
And to my knowledge, no one bothered to tell the users anything either. Not for a very long time anyway. All they noticed was that stuff wasn’t working as it should any more, like the extensions site which kept going offline.
Localization is often seen as an afterthought to “the real work” and while I don’t agree, that’s just the way it is. Fine. But 100 hours of a translator’s lifetime are just as important as 100 hours of developer lifetime. Loosing that tends to make translators a bit tetchy. It perhaps comes as no surprise that the majority of translators have decamped to LibreOffice and look set to stay there, even if Apache OpenOffice comes back on stream.
Which, especially in the Open Source world where volunteers (remember, they volunteer, they’re not serfs) have the choice of going somewhere else, tells you one thing – if there’s big stuff afoot, it pays to communicate this to the folk who might not be in the midst of the firestorm but who are involved nonetheless.
We all know the feeling… software doing something that’s totally counter-intuitive, driving us mad in the process. Here, I can’t decide what’s worse, not doing user testing (or doing it badly, as in, leave it to IT people to test) or not listening to your users. Which of course applies to both open source and proprietary software.
Case in point, LibreOffice (the former OpenOffice). Yes, I’m the localizer for Gaelic there. Yes, I think it’s a really great project and really great software package and yes, I can’t see why schools and government are paying Microsoft money for their products which are getting more complicated by the day (yes, I hate the Ribbon). So what’s my bone? It’s the installation process for new users, oddly enough.
Now LibreOffice comes in over a hundred languages, including languages like Oromo, Tibetan and Ndebele who’d normally have a fight to get into propriety software. Fantastic. So what does an interested user do? Well, they go to the site, select their operating system (great, Windows, Linux and MacOS), select their language, download, install (puzzling a little over the install menu being in English but hey, maybe there’s a technical issue with that), write a letter to their granny in Oromo to tell them about this great thing they now have on their computer. Errr… let’s backtrack to step 2, selecting your language. I’m not sure what was being smoked in the room when the download and install process was designed but here’s what actually happens.
You actually download a fairly hefty file which contains the translated interfaces for all languages plus all spellcheckers and grammar proofing tools that teams have bundled with LibreOffice. Bit of a bugger if you’re on a slow connection folks… You then install and you reach a point where you have to select Typical or Custom installation. Now assuming a “normal” user who can’t program in C++ and writes regex to solve his breakfast sudoku, you choose Typical. You complete the process and open LibreOffice – in English. At this point, wtf comes to your lips in whatever (and possibly all) languages you are most fluent in. You start rooting around in the gubbins, pardon, the Options but yours isn’t there.
At this point you either persevere and eventually get the right answer or, in most cases, you give up cause who wants to bother with software that’s complicated when you’re installing it, never mind how simple it is when using it?? Now what is the right answer, your rightfully wondering? Duh, obviously you have to select Custom (never mind that to this point most people are under the impression they’ve just downloaded their own language), then go to Additional language packs and click to expand the menu, unselect 3 types of English and select your language, then move on and hey presto. Oh, did I mention that whichever path through this you pick, you still have the proofing tools for all languages installed, making it a real pain to find the one you’re actually using.
Yes, I’m shaking my head too. True, they may have inherited this from Oracle’s OpenOffice when they split (forked, as they’ll say). But we’re now several releases down the line and it’s still as insane as ever. Maybe someone like Microsoft can afford to piss off users but a recent splinter of an open source office suite which is trying to make it big?
Ok, so the current process allows you to select more than 1 language for your interface which then allows to to switch but for heaven’s sake guys, there are better ways of doing that… like downloading a new language pack from the web if you choose to add Welsh to your Zulu interface.
Projects like LibreOffice in my view can’t afford to let easy of use for the end user fall behind, even if developing something that shows the time in the Mayan Long Count just sounds like so much more fun than making sure the download and install process runs as smoothly as possible with a minimum of head-scratching cause somewhere down the line you’re either losing customers or someone has to provide a load of unnecessary support.
And in Beurla? That’s English, for the goidelically challenged. Thing is, I already connect with my Goidelic-speaking friends via many a channel but what I may have to say that’s fit for a blog is actually much less aimed at them.
Thing is, I spotted the great opportunities that Open Software had to offer to small languages a long time ago but when I had a look in, I got nowhere. More about that later. It wasn’t until a chance meeting between an American Irish speaker and myself in a pub in Dublin that I finally managed to get something off the ground with the brilliant help of said Gaelgeoir, Kevin Scannell, who encouraged me to go back and localize Mozilla Firefox.
That was back in 2009. I’ve since morphed into the Scottish Gaelic localization team for anything from Mozilla to LibreOffice. Surprisingly common scenario, but again, more on that later. 2011 in particular has been a busy year and I now feel that I’ve moved beyond the noob stage and where I’m allowed to have a view or two on some things.
So, Dear Developer, thanks for tuning in and I hope this will be provide an insight as to what localization looks like from the other end of the fibreoptic cable!