Multilingual computing made easy: Microsoft Language Interface Packs

In the global 24x7 economy, multilingual computing technologies are coming to the fore as corporations seek to truly internationalise every level of their technology stack. Microsoft’s Language Interface Packs (LIPs) ) provide the translation mechanism necessary to make single applications more useable by speakers of different languages. But what exactly are LIPs and when and why should you think about installing one?

It’s rare today to find any organisation without either customers or employees in foreign countries. Figures typically estimate that over three quarters of the Internet is written in English; and much of the communication between multi-national companies will also depend on the English language as its lingua franca. But for non-native English speakers, there will always be some level of productivity trade when they work with PC applications that require them to ‘translate as they go’ to get them to work.

The fact is that users in the Czech Republic (or Iceland, or Brazil, or Croatia etc.) will often spend a proportion of their time looking at documents or web pages in both English and their native tongue. For this reason, Microsoft has developed its Language Interface Packs to address the needs of users that regularly work with applications in different languages and for PC’s used by speakers of more than one common language.

Available for use with Microsoft Word, Outlook, PowerPoint and Excel within the Office 2007 suite, LIPs are ideally suited for deployment within organisations with multilingual employees and where staff from different nations will share the same computing resources. Crucially, this technology will help users who would be more comfortable and productive with a so-called ‘skin’ that will change the look and feel of the application’s menus and other interfaces without changing the central functionality of the product.

The ‘concept’ behind LIPs is that, once installed, they can switch the user experience from one that is fluid and acceptable to say, a Norwegian speaker – to one that appears familiar and equally fluid to somebody from Vietnam. Along with localised menus, editing functions such as the spell checker, dictionary and thesaurus can be switched to any of the languages currently supported.

Where do LIPs work best?

Microsoft LIPs are designed for implementation in locations where languages are spoken by a relatively small number of people, which may in some cases be regarded as ‘dialects’ of the country’s more widely recognised tongue. While Microsoft produces full-blown versions of its products for the world’s major languages, where a fully developed patois exists, there is a need for this extra level of translation.

Spain for example has Microsoft Office Spanish Edition, but it also has LIPs for Catalan and Basque. South Africa has widely adopted the use of English, but LIPs are available for Xhosa and Afrikaans. Equally, Sri Lanka has Sinhalese and Tamil. The list for the Indian subcontinent’s supported languages is as diverse as the nation itself with Punjabi, Gujarati and Kannada being just three of the options available.

To work effectively, LIPs require the software to have a ‘base’ installed version of the Microsoft application in place, either in English or in the closest available language. Multiple language packs can then be installed on the server if a centralised IT support function is in place to manage their roll out. This becomes especially effective if a single server (or grouped server ‘farm’) is to be used to support workers in different locations and if corporate web pages need to be reproduced in more than one language.

From this point, the user can enjoy a roughly 80 per cent localised ‘experience’ when using their PC. Given the ‘familiarity’ most of us have with the way Windows drop-down menus operate, this is arguably close enough to render the remaining 20 per cent of non localised elements of the user interface almost redundant. LIPs are intuitively designed to target the most frequently used elements of the Office applications they support so that the 80 per cent of translated content is of the most use to the user.

Not lost in translation

It’s worth noting that not only is the volume of data currently being created spiraling, but its importance and value is also increasing exponentially. If this is the case, then it becomes even more important for us to be able to use electronic data effectively whether in document, image, video or spreadsheet format. Presenting users with an interface that matches the idiomatic format of the language they feel most comfortable with reduces the chance of that data being mishandled or misinterpreted. LIPs are designed to bridge this language gap and ensure that a user is focused on the data on screen and not the menus or other tools, which he or she has to interpret with every click.

Microsoft is attuned to the needs of computer users around the world and will seek to increase the number of LIPs it produces in the long term. As it does this, the company strives to refine the process by which it arrives at the latest versions of each LIP by building a glossary of terms to be incorporated into the product. This practice is conducted by a process known as the Community Glossary Project, which is carried out in association with government, academia and local linguistic experts. In day-to-day use, users are able to switch between LIPs at any time without rebooting their machines. This is a particularly useful in an office with shared computing resources. They can be used at a basic level for users who only need core file and print functionality from their machines, or at a more sophisticated level with a Microsoft Global Input Method Editor to handle complex international characters and symbols.

Development of Microsoft’s LIPs has followed the path of Vista’s development and with be further enhanced as the company progresses towards the next version of Windows. Pricing information and a full list of languages currently supported is available on the Microsoft Office Online web site.

Applies to:
Word 2007