Microsoft have just posted the details of which languages IE 7 will be available in. It’s interesting to compare this with the list of locales currently available for the latest Firefox 2 beta, which hopefully is a good proxy for what we will have in the final release.
We both seem to agree on what the core locales are – with the exception of Hebrew, which I’m sure is brewing, we can match them on all of their “Fully Localised Languages”. Funny, though – if you are on XP SP2, you are fine, but if you are on any of the other current Microsoft OSes, such as Windows Server 2003 or a 64-bit version, you may well be out of luck. IE 7 on those platforms is only available for a small subset of the “fully localised” set. And, of course, it’s not available for earlier versions of Windows at all such as Windows 98 and Win2K. Firefox language packs, on the other hand, work everywhere Firefox does.
And we do have a wider coverage of full language packs. There are 13 languages we provide full packs for that they don’t – with three (Mongolian, Byelorussian and Frisian) which they have no provision for at all. As far as IE is concerned, the Frisians have been frisian out.
Next, they have this thing called the “MUI version” – with MUI standing for Multi-language User Interface. This has a load of languages in one big bundle, and you can switch between them at will. Great for internet cafés, but if you speak Slovenian, which is only available in this form, then you have to download 32 other languages in order to get yours. I hope they don’t have slovenly internet connections in Slovenia. There are also several other languages which are only available in full form as part of this download (e.g. Thai and Slovak).
Our coverage of the extra languages available in the MUI pack is spotty – we have Slovak and Bulgarian fully localised and shipped, but don’t even have an Estonian team. Then again, there are only 1.3 million people in Estonia, whereas there are 18 million Malay speakers and they only get a LIP (see below). I wonder if the choice of languages here is partly dictated by the official languages of the EU? Microsoft’s relationship with the EU could probably use some improving, so perhaps this is one small contribution. If so, they’ve missed Maltese (and, from January 1st, Irish). I envisage a last-minute panic at Microsoft HQ; after all, you don’t want to make the Maltese cross…
Lastly, they have what they call LIP (Language Interface Pack) versions. As far as I can tell, this is where you get the interface translated, but not the Help or anything like that. Definitely second-class status. On the other hand, with the addition of these packs, they do have a wider coverage than we can manage. If Hindi or Farsi (Persian) speakers, for example, want a web browser in that language, then a LIP version of IE 7 is the best they’ll get. Except that they won’t get it until after January 2007, because Microsoft don’t do simultaneous releases like we do. Hopefully those language speakers can see that far.
We have localisation teams for far more languages than we ship, but there are many volunteers where we don’t seem to have yet managed to translate willingness into finished, checked in and shipped translations. Perhaps that should be a focus post-2.0?
Still, I think we’re in a good location with localisation. Well done to everyone who is part of a l10n team, and to Axel for coordinating it all. :-)