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Report on Indic Computing Coordination Meeting 18th-19th September, 2004

Shashank Sharma


Mumbai, India. Linux support for Indian languages continues to grow: We see a steady increase in the localization projects in India. There has also been a steep rise in the number of Open Source applications available in various Indian languages. (OO.o) is 'the' app being translated by almost every language group. Officially OO.o now supports five Indian languages, with work on others nearing completion. A list of languages supported by OO.o is easily available.

IndLinux, the mother project of all Indic Localization efforts, have regularly held workshops throughout the country to brainstorm certain issues, come up with new ideas and demonstrate Indic computing to the general public. Karunakar G., the highly respected Indic developer, has been coordinating these efforts since early 2000. Seeing the enthusiasm of the various groups, IndLinux decided to get representatives from all language groups together in Mumbai to interact, discuss various issues and share experiences with each other, as well as with representatives from the Ministry of Information and Technology. The meeting agenda and the list of participants can be found here.

The informal discussions over dinner on the 17th set the pace for the two-day meet, the highlight of which was the presence of The Ministry of IT and the extensive discussion on Unicode. Another plus point of the meet was that some promises were made, despite the fact that the proceedings of the meet were being recorded.

Day 1 of the meet saw all the language teams give their presentations. Dr. Om Vikas, Senior Director, TDIL (Technology Development for Indian Languages), also made a mark as this was the first time that a representative from the Ministry was present in an Indic meet. He remarked that TDIL will soon be publishing some of their fonts under proper licenses. The other highlight of the day was the demonstrations by Dr. Hema from the IIT-Madras team, which has worked on limited speech and handwriting recognition engine, and used TamilNet99, not Unicode.

After lunch, we had the first technical session of the day with discussions on the locale definition, collation, text rendering issues/bugs, input methods and fonts. The discussion soon drifted to Unicode. The biggest issue with Unicode seems to be with getting changes done, with Unicode's policy of "Only fix, when it's broken". Mahesh Pai, coordinator, Malayalam group, suggested that Unicode has to be handled carefully, now even more so, because of the recent heated emails at unicode which put the list on moderation. The heated mails were a result of Unicode's reluctance to add new characters for the Bangla language.

Mahesh, who was most vocal while discussing Unicode, disclosed that Unicode is proposing an update to it's existing standard 4.01 and are willing to add new characters to the standards for any language. Mahesh said that this is the time to make requests for new characters but cautioned that continued efforts backed by proof (old text, book) alone can get any changes into the Unicode.

The day also saw some discussion on usability, with Sankarshan, Red Hat, talking about the aspect of learnability, as well.

Day 2 began with Dr. Nagarjuna, FSF-India, commenting on the left-over topics from the previous day.

Aspell/Ispell spell checkers were discussed with groups sharing their experiences on their respective choices. Word Lists for dictionaries and the need for collation were also discussed. A Unified database for po translation was also discussed, along with ideas for having an automated translator.

After lunch, the need for effective documentation was discussed. Venky, himself a journalist for 10 years before moving to Red Hat, commented on how it was time Indic computing needed to make the right noises in the press. This was followed by an open discussion to prepare a TODO list.

Before the close there was a long and interesting discussion on forming an Indic Development Consortium. Due to time limitations the discussion couldn't result in actually forming the consortium. But several people raised their hands to take responsibilities which are still to be decided.

This concluded the two day meet. Karunakar thanked the participants for sharing their views with the community. After a formal end to the event there were some light discussion on the next meet. A group photo of the attendees can be found here.

In the days since the meet, several issues have been discussed in the IndLinux group mailing list as well as the indlinux channel on the IRC.


About the author

Shashank Sharma writes on open source development in India. He lives in New Delhi. He has generously donated this work to the Project.

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