Interview: Rhoslyn Prys, Welsh Language Project Lead
The Welsh Native Language Project, lead by Rhoslyn Prys, is one of the new language projects reaching out to communities historically marginalized by software companies. The project thus is both a political and technical achievement. The interview below, conducted via email earlier November 2004, offers insight into the issues.
Let's start with an introduction. Tell us about yourself, your team, and what you are doing on OpenOffice.org (OpenOffice.org). And, for context's sake: What do you do outside of OpenOffice.org?
I'm Rhoslyn Prys and I'm the Leader of the OpenOffice.org Welsh Native Language Project . Included in the team are Dewi Jones and David Chan, we've also had assistance from a number of people including Delyth Prys and Gruffudd Prys.
Dewi and I had had a lot of experience in translating software; Mozilla, Abiword, Mandrakelinux, etc, and OpenOffice.org appeared to be a natural development. David joined us during the initial stages of the project and assisted Dewi with builds and technical issues as well as liaison with Pavel Janík [co-lead of the l10n project. Ed]. Dewi was also involved in the development of OO dico and enabling Cysgliad, the Welsh language spell and grammar checker, to work within OpenOffice.org and StarOffice. I translated OpenOffice.org over an 18-month period using poEdit and Cysill and Cysgair.
Delyth and Gruffudd are my wife and son and worked on checking terms, idioms and the language register of the translation. Gruff has done the graphic design of the CD and subs the Meddal.com website. He introduced me to PHP-Nuke, which I hate.
Not officially part of the 'team' but involved in the general development, was Ned Thomas, Mercator. Ned had the idea of making use of European Union Objective One money to enable the development of bilingual Openoffice.org. Ned and his team worked to gain the support of many local authorities fro this project, which was successful in being awarded £300,000 in August 2004 for translation and development over the next two years.
Outside OpenOffice.org I work as policy and performance office within Social Services locally. Dewi heads the E-Welsh Unit at Canolfan Bedwyr, University of Wales, Bangor, where Gruff works at the Welsh Place Name Unit, and David works as a software engineer at Clocksoft in Birmingham. I also run Meddal.com, our repository and marketplace for Welsh language software.
Why is a Welsh localization of OpenOffice.org important? That is, what national, political or cultural goals does it serve?
The vision we had was that OpenOffice provided a unique selling point for the bilingual society we have in Wales. That selling point was to provide an office suite that could be available for individuals, organizations and agencies in Welsh or in English. No other provider appeared to have an intention of providing such a package and a number of organizations were looking to move from outdated suites or were unimpressed with their present provider on grounds of stability or price. With the present build of OpenOffice.org we offer a spell checker and possible functionality of Cysgliad and To Bach, which is a Welsh accent input program by Draig Technologies. We've also tried encouraging other Celtic language projects to start their own OpenOffice.org projects.
What technological challenges have you encountered? Has the Project helped you overcome them? (or not?) How would you improve things?
We were greatly assisted by Pavel Janík, and the availability of .po files for translation made use of translation memory and consistency of terminology possible. Dewi and David are wizards....
Microsoft is reportedly coming out with a Welsh localization. In what ways does the OpenOffice.org Welsh localization differ? "Differ" can refer to technology as well as politics. The two are not that separate. For instance, Microsoft's technology is predicated on a closed environment, OpenOffice.org's open.
Yes, the Welsh version of MS XP and Office will be launched before Christmas. Much of their localization is based on the translation of OpenOffice.org: We provided the translation company with our terminology lists and copies of OpenOffice.org for their context use. We were keen to develop a standardized set of Welsh language computer terminology, and wanted to avoid the poor translations by other open-source translators.
If you were persuading a local Welsh government (city, region) to choose OpenOffice.org over MSFT Office, what are the key arguments you would use?
The bilingual and open-source nature of the product would be the main attractions for local government, the ability to easily switch language and the availability of spell checkers, etc, is a definite bonus. The ability to jointly develop the software to their own shared needs is certainly something local authorities could do with. Cost may also be an issue, but inertia may negate that.
How can others help you in your work? That is, do you need help QA'ing, translating, distributing, marketing?
We are a small group and could do with assistance with marketing. Ned's project will for the medium term assist with the translation and in developing a handbook, etc. I believe that there is a market out there for a multilingual CD with OpenOffice.org and Mozilla at a reasonable price, say £10 in local supermarkets, and elsewhere. There is a large market of people who do not know how to download a program or visit specialist computer shops. We also need to persuade computer builders to include OpenOffice.org on hard drives and internet providers to include OpenOffice.org on their CDs as tasters.
Finally, what do you like (or dislike) about OpenOffice.org? What would you urge changed?
Wales is a bilingual country, and very few organizations have 100% Welsh speakers. Therefore it's not ideal having to install two separate copies of OpenOffice.org, one for English and one for Welsh. We'd rather have a single version which can be started in either language, but with settings and document history being shared between both languages. The Debian project has done valuable work in this area, and OpenOffice.org 2.0 will be a big step forwards. Ideally, in the long run, we'd like to switch between English and Welsh at the click of a button, without restarting OpenOffice.org. Then, if a Welsh speaker has a problem, English-speaking technical support staff can come over, click to change the language, and deal with the problem. This will be useful in the US Spanish > English, too.