Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Microsoft's Indifference to Indian languages




Microsoft India urged to promote Indian languages effectively

When Microsoft announced its projects Saksham and Bhasha over four years ago, there were great hopes for better days for Indian languages on computers. As it turns out now, this is not the case if one goes by the experience of Marathi computer users so far.
Experts at Marathi Abhyas Kendra (MAK) have experienced that the efforts of localisation of Microsoft products have been woefully inadequate. “We have repeatedly pointed out the shortcomings to the Microsoft Corporation (India) Pvt Ltd. These relate to Marathi Unicode user interface, inadequacy of its Help files, shortcomings in Windows-XP user interface and keyboard layout, and non-availability of User Manuals in Marathi,” says Kendra President Deepak Pawar.
The MAK, a Thane-based voluntary organisation championing the cause of Marathi language, had submitted to the Microsoft regional office (Public Sector) in India a detailed document about the shortcomings on May 17, 2009 and had volunteered to offer assistance to tackle these issues. Similar offer was made earlier in March, 2009 to its Ireland office, which directed the communication to the Indian subsidiary office. Nothing concrete has emerged.
Prof Pawar says the Microsoft will have to play a key role to increase use of Marathi in computers because the Maharashtra government education department has entrusted with this company the responsibility to spread computer and internet literacy through formal training in schools in the state.
Explaining the status of computer literacy in the state, Prof Pawar points out that a large number of people in the state have already begun using computers and the number is expected to grow if assisted them in Marathi properly. There are about 90 million Marathi speaking people residing in Maharashtra, Goa, bordering areas of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
Microsoft is the industry leader in computer operating system (OS). It will have to set the standards for terminology in its Marathi version of the OS and other products, and also language for instructions in Help Files and user manuals.  The Microsoft’s track record so far has been far from satisfactory, says software developer Nitin Nimkar.
The Microsoft has failed to realise that Marathi devanagari script may be similar to Hindi’s, but these are not exactly the same. These two languages are different although many words and phrases have been derived from Sanskrit.  Many words and phrases have different shades of meanings in these two languages.  The Microsoft has, however, chosen to assume that an expert in Hindi language would have expertise of Marathi as well. It has resulted in unwarranted intrusion of Hindi words in the Marathi version.  
Mr Sushant Devlekar, the linguistic researcher, says the Windows XP user interface has various shortcomings and defects from the linguistic point of view. Many technical terms used as well as the language used for instructions in the help files are way below the acceptable standard of technical writing.   In some cases the words and phrases used are entirely wrong and do not mean anything.  
Professional translator Vijay Padhye points out several instances where the words and phrases used are verbatim transliteration of English and word-for-word translation of English into Marathi. At times such Marathi words sound very funny or many times are even outrageous. This appears to be the result of poor knowledge of technical writing in Marathi. At some places the words used are blindly adopted from Hindi and are used without proper attention to the context.
Software Consultant Salil Kulkarni has insisted that the Microsoft has not lived up to its reputation of being developer-friendly and user- friendly in respect of Help files and support. The Help files in the Marathi version of Windows-XP or Vista need lots of improvement.
He points out that a major issue for anyone using computer for Marathi language concerns the key-board which has been designed by different vendors in different manner, unlike in the case of English (Roman) which is uniform the world over.
Absence of standardisation for the layout of the Devanagari keyboards promoted by the vendors has created confusion for the users ever since attempts were made to introduced Marathi keying in over more than two decades ago.  The ‘Inscript’ keyboard, accepted by Microsoft as standard for Indian languages have quiet a few shortcomings. For example, keys such as < > ? etc. and some Marathi alphabets cannot be directly used in the Inscript keyboard. The other function keys (for example,  F1, F2 etc.) are not enabled, says Kulkarni.
Media lecturer Rammohan Khanapurkar says the Microsoft does not provide hardcopy of Product User manual in Marathi when its products are sold in Maharashtra. It does not offer online Help in Marathi.  He suggests that provision to switch over to the Marathi version of the OS interface and Unicode option to work in Indian languages should be made available at the beginning itself when the computer is switched on every time.
During the recent times, Unicode has been accepted as a character coding system for all the Indian languages. It is embedded in all the Operating systems of Microsoft Windows such as Windows 2000, XP, and Vista etc. But Nimkar laments that neither software vendors who sell Microsoft products nor associations working for cyber-space applications bring this to the notice of ordinary buyers and internet users.
The MAK president says the Kendra has been making efforts to spread use of Marathi with active support from Ms Leena Mehendale, Maharashtra government’s Principal Secretary (General Administration) and Mr Vivek Sawant, the managing director of Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Ltd. who are keen to create awareness of Unicode for Marathi. However the Microsoft did not respond to these efforts.
Prof Pawar has renewed his appeal to the Microsoft to take appropriate steps at the earliest so that computer script and language could be promoted during the three-day 83rd All India Marathi Sahitya Sammelan in March 2009. Thousands of Marathi readers and writers are expected to attend the prestigious All India literary meet.
He insists that these steps are necessary as these would also facilitate promotion of all other Indian languages among computer users.  
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1 comment:

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