Computing in Indian languages could help other countries too
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Computing in Indian languages could help other countries too

By India Abroad News Service   |   Thursday, 19 September 2002, 07:00 Hrs
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BANGALORE: Computing solutions in Indian languages could help take IT to the masses not just in this country but in other parts of Asia as well.

"I just met Laotian and Cambodian experts who were keen to follow India's work on local language computing solutions," Pat Hall of Britain's Open University, a close watcher of moves that could throw open computing to hundreds of millions in this region, told IANS on the Net.

Hall pointed out that Myanmarese and some other Southeast Asian languages use variants of the Brahmi script, which is closely related to Indic scripts.

Burmese is spoken by an estimated 32 million, mainly around Myanmar.

And even though India's situation is rather complex -- with some 1,652 dialects from half-a-dozen different language groups -- things are not that bleak.

Solutions in a few major languages would immediately open up computing to hundreds of millions, say experts who have begun to look for allies in varied fields.

"This is not rocket science. Solutions are possible. Indian-language word processors and spreadsheets are badly needed," said Venky Hariharan, a long-time campaigner on this front who is now with the Mumbai-based Media Lab Asia, on the sidelines of an Indic Computing meet held here.

"But this is not just an engineering problem. There are cultural and linguistic issues," pointed out Tapan Parikh, another expert working in this area.

One strategy of the Indic Computing group is to network with free software and open source networks like KDE to software giant Microsoft.

"We're anyway heading towards a boom in Indian language computing. For all plans of G2C (government-to-citizen) initiatives to succeed, we need it. Outside Delhi and Mumbai, people would still prefer to work in Indian languages on their computers," said Microsoft Corporation India localization program manager Raveesh Gupta.

Other key players in the field are an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Chennai group incubating innovative Indian-language solutions, the National Center for Software Technology in Mumbai and the International Institute of Information Technology (IIT) in Hyderabad, which has worked on machine-language translation.

Local GNU/Linux users' groups as well as scattered volunteers spread across India to study and promote the use of free and open source software are also being looked on as potential allies.

Groups trying to widen India's computing base and take IT solutions to the rural areas are also searching for solutions. One example is Bangalore's Simputer network, which plans to take a sharable, low-cost people's computing device to millions.

Some Indian tongues are making headway. Tamil expatriates in Toronto are thrilled with the success of a Tamil-enabled version of Mandrake, a brand packaging GNU/Linux software.

Said Toronto-based expatriate V. Venkataramanan: "A total Tamil computer is now available. With the release of Mandrake Linux 9.0, an average user should be able to operate a computer and use Internet -- all in Tamil."

People throughout the world have been using computers and Internet in their own languages. So far, Indian users have been compelled to use them in English despite the dominance of Indian engineers and scientists in the IT world.

In Malayalam, the Free Software Foundation India is undertaking some initiatives. Kannada language computing has been spearheaded by groups like the Kannada Ganaka Parishad and scientists at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore.

Hindi and Marathi have also been getting considerable attention. Bengali IT solution campaigners plan to share solutions with developers like Tani Ahmed in Bangladesh.




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