Having understood the history and growing importance of localisation in India, as well as the key local initiatives being taken in the previous article of this series, let us now look at the status of localisation in Indian languages, and the potential for growth.
Let’s first take a look at the status of localisation in India from the localisers perspective. In order to quantify the status of localisation, we need to make a few choices about the software components. A computer user experiences several software, right from the moment the computer is switched on till it is switched off. These include boot and installation programs, the Graphical User Interface (GUI), a browser and several application software.
In the past, installation programs supported only English. After the introduction of GUIs and the progress in localisation, installation software (except for the initial boot screen) started supporting non-English languages. For the purposes of assessment, Ive picked the Debian installer, as Debian and its derivatives have the maximum usage.
Many different GUIs are available in the free software world; GNOME and KDE are the most common, and GNOME is the most popular, which is why Ive chosen to analyse the extent of its localisation. Of the many different browsers that are available, Firefox is the most popular, hence fits the bill for our analysis.
Software applications are specific to a taskwhether preparing documents, analysing data, preparing presentations, working with pictures, playing music or video, etc. An office package that comes with a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software has become perhaps the most common application. LibreOffice (a fork of OpenOffice) is the most common office software for free software users; hence, it has been selected as the fourth component for analysis.
For the 22 official Indian languages, the status of support for each of the selected software components, in their latest versions (in terms of release, beta, or non-availability (NA)) is given in Table 1.
When you carefully analyse the data, you will find that:
Urdu has zero localisation.
There are eight languages that have 100 per cent release-level coverage of all components.
All Indian languages (barring Urdu) have release or beta versions of LibreOffice.
Localisation efforts appear to have been prioritised in the following order: LibreOffice, GNOME, Firefox and Debian installer.
Some Indian languages like Hindi, Tamil and Bangla are international in nature, and have benefited from worldwide contributors. The exception seems to be Urdu.
The user statistics
Localisation will improve only when there are users, so it is good to understand the user statistics. For FOSS, it is not easy to find out the extent of language use, as software is freely distributed. Firefox has a facility called Blocklist, which is used to ensure security for users by helping with warnings about suspicious sites, add-ons, etc. This feature records the preferences of Firefox users, each time they use the browser. Hence, the Firefox statistics are a good indicator of usage. From both the reading and editing perspective, the statistics of Wikipedia, the fifth-largest Internet site, have also been considered. Apart from this, bloggers constitute an important segment of language computing. The analysis of a bloggers’ survey done by the Indibloggers.in portal has been used as another indicator. Table 2 shows the statistics of users for a sample of Indian languages.
A careful look at this table reveals that Indic users are a very tiny fraction of those who speak local languages. Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Bengali are ahead of the rest. Urdu registers its presence in Wikipedia and the bloggers’ world.
Potential for growth
The recently released Census 2011 data on households with computers provides a rich source of information on the scope for using Indian languages. Of 246 million households, 9.5 per cent have computers, which amounts to 23.37 million people. The census also shows that 53.32 per cent of households have mobile phones, which means 131 million people. As smartphone prices reduce, we can expect households to migrate to tablets or smartphones with touchscreen interfaces. This will lead to a tremendous use of computing devices in India in the near future, as Indic language users will be able to comfortably get over the English language barrier that is associated with text-based input methods.
Now that you know more about where Indian language localisation stands, you can help by delving into the details of your preferred language(s), and contributing to promote and popularise Indian language computing. I look forward to your questions/feedback.
For more information
Debian installer: http://d-i.debian.org/l10n-stats/
Indiblogger stats: http://blog.indiblogger.in/2009/06/15/statistics-from-the-indian-blogosphere/
Household highlights: http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011census/hlo/hlo_highlights.html