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Re: Hindi and Software

a) Everyone who owns a computer does know english.

is'nt this a circular argument ? why would a person
who does not know english buy a computer if he could
not use the computer in a language s/he is comfortable with ?

b) English is one of the most spoken and understood language in India by city dwellers unlike countries in Europe and Japan.

it is well understood by less than 10% of the indian population.
it'll take a lot less time to localise linux to indian languages
than to force the remaining population to learn

c) A user may find it more difficult to use a hindi keyboard (as if they were available)

how can you make this assumption ? a hindi user might find it as
easy to use a hindi keyboard  as you find it to use an english
keyboard. keyboards with local language bindings have been available
for a long time. i've seen a hindi typist use such a keyboard
to write in hindi on a computer with terrific speed (a few years back!).

d) Porting a complete OS like linux to use hindi may take it off the mainstream. All the softwares need to be rewritten and all the documentation etc, as well as a need for a programming language.

linux has already been localised to more than 50 different languages,
none of which unfortunately are indian languages. these include chinese
and russian, two rising competitors to india in software. so 'mainstream linux' is already different from your notion of a purely english based OS. the work involved in localising is not that great - the visual font mappings and the keyboard bindings are the main things that have to change. almost all major software vendors have inbuilt support for internationalization (i13n) in their products, so no major change in the software design is required. programming language will remain english based for some time, but the vast majority of computer users don't learn programming anyway. plenty of good translators for documentation are available and should be harnessed. a lot of this could be based on volunteer work (a friend of mine translated the HTML how-to pages to spanish in his spare time and his page received 30,000 hits in the first year !).

e) Porting a shell like bash to interact/take commands in hindi will again put us in a cocoon.

using unix, it could be very easy to alias all unix commands to
local language based commands.

f) Would anyone already using the OS/shell in english like to switch over to hindi given that development takes place only slowly and there will be many problems with it in the starting. And without many users the development can't follow the OSS way.

if you are comfortable with english, there's no point switching to hindi. but if not, there should be no necessity to switch to english
either. it is the computers that have to be made easier to use, instead
of the users having to learn a new language for the sake of using them.

the 'without many users' is again a circular argument. fact is, majority
of the users will almost certainly be local language users, if the technology allows it.

However I feel it may be good to use hindi in some applications like email etc.

it could be used in word processing, spreadsheets, databases,
web page development, online stores, browsers, games,
imaging software ...   this opens up entirely new markets.

the biggest example of this is china - in china internet connectivity
started 4-5 years after it did in india. however right now the chinese
internet user base is already 5 times larger than in india. i think
this is large part due to localisation - my chinese friends always browse the web in chinese instead of in english. the linux-chinese howto has been around for quite a while and people are fluent in using chinese from the regular keyboards. there are other reasons, such
as the thick headed indian bureocracy, but let's not go there :)

we normally think of the indian softare industry as being lucky
in understanding english and thereby having a headstart over russian/chinese. but this hurdle forced the russian/chinese to localise early on. because of which their computer user base is rocketing. whereas indian usage is being limited to the english speaking population, which is tiny portion of the entire population.
localisation of content and applications is in fact the key to bringing
linux into mainstream use in india.

comments ?
- Ruchir

ps. hope everyone had a very happy and colorful holi ! cheers, - r
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