A recent article published in a leading daily here in India touched quite a few raw nerves. Besides talking about the presence of the Gujarati and Punjabi localized versions of Firefox in its latest version, the article somewhat prominently highlights the absence of quite a few other languages due to “a lack of motivation”. Needless to say, there was quite a flutter amongst the volunteer-driven localization communities, who were quick to exchange notes on various mailing lists. So much so, that Chris Hofmann had to come forward with his apologies. Given all the hullaballoo, even I wanted to add my 2 paisa to the entire episode, in my own way.
First up, its important to understand how the Firefox Localization process works. It is rather different from most other localization projects and can pose quite a challenge even for old-hats. I shall try to summarize it, in the best way I can.
During the process of Firefox localization, two variants of localized components would surface:
Each language shipped with Firefox, goes from the “Language Pack” stage to the “Official Build” stage in a phased manner. Unlike other translation projects (e.g. Gnome, Fedora), a new language is not included for the offical development version rightaway. Rather, one has to first work on the previously released stable version (so for Firefox 3, one needs to get the Firefox 2 source), complete all the translation and other tidbits, and only then would a language be accepted as official or as its called “productized”.
This is where most of the fun starts. The tidbits include quite a few default pages for Firefox (Complete List is here). The pages are in English and provide the templates for the localized versions. Yet, while translating one has to ensure that the local effects are maintained. For eg. The FireFox First-Run page. Notice the links to “Hype Machine” and “Yelp“. Now try figuring out the Indian equivalent for each of them. Yelp could be mapped to burrp.com. But after hunting all over the place for something similar to Hype Machine, finally it was decided to go with an internet Radio station instead. Enter RadioVeRVe. Same goes for search plugins etc. These bits and pieces of the productization part is tracked and submitted through various bugs, which are handled by different Mozilla Developers. I have been working on the Bengali India productization for quite sometime now. Bug id – 398992. As mentioned earlier its a Firefox 2 productization bug and there has been quite a bit of back-and-forth action on the bugs. There is a bug for Firefox 3 as well, but it would only come into effect once the Firefox 2 productization is complete. Bug id – 415575. So it might be a while before all the nitty gritties are worked out and issues finally ironed out. Since Rajesh and I have been closely working with each other, it is quite understandable why the newspaper article came as a mighty blow to him.
However, what I do find disturbing is the nonchalance on the part of the mainstream media before making such blanket comments. Little knowledge is always a bad thing. Especially in matters like community driven projects, which are to this day an unfamiliar or at best a hazy idea for most people watching things from outside the perimeter of the action. Perhaps it might have helped, if credentials of the commentator could have been judged prior to the interview, so that the messaging would have been drafted in a comprehensible format of the audience. Damage control measures are not always a way out. As are not single points of coordination and failures.
The Indian community of Localization volunteers are probably one of the most closely knit group of people. With a common culture and geographic proximity that bonds us at a personal level, friendships have been forged, experiences shared and help is always at hand. More than anything, its personal for us. Very very personal and its about time people understand it.