Tag Archives: GNOME

This one is unfunny

On the sidelines of the GNOME.Asia 2011 at Bangalore, an article in The HinduThis one’s no gnome” was published. When Srinivasa Ragavan tweeted about it, I mentioned about the ill-formed comment
The paragraph of interest is here:

Excited to be in India, he concedes that community interest here is still on the lower side. Setting this straight is particularly important when it comes to GNOME localisation. “Localisation is a huge challenge here, mainly because there are so many languages, and also because of the way the alphabet font is linked. This is where Free software is critical, because smaller the user base, lesser the chances proprietary firms will take this up.” We count on enthusiastic developers, who are proud of their language and want to preserve it in the digital realm, Mr. Cameron adds. In fact, he points out there are “big business opportunities”, domestic and international, for those who commit themselves to such projects.

 

Brian mentions about community interest in localization being less. On the face of it, this appears to be a conclusion derived from looking at number of participants in the language communities. The way I’ve learnt to look at localization is to try and see the communities and the efforts which sustain. Localization is a steady and incremental process. The communities which take the time and make the effort to reach and maintain their place in and around the “supported” percentage for the individual Indic languages are the ones doing great work.

 
With each release of GNOME there is an obvious increase in the number of strings up for translation. I don’t have the exact statistics to support this fact but I guess a trend-line generated from the total number of strings available in each release super-imposed over the trend-line for the ‘supported percentage’ figure would see an increase with each release. I’m sure someone actually has this data. This basically means that within a short period of ~4 months (factor in the code freeze and string freeze etc), which may or may not also overlap with other project releases, the localization teams end up completing their existing release work, review pending modules and polish up translation consistency ensuring that with each release of the desktop there is a step towards making it more user-friendly.

 

That’s why localization is a big challenge. Not because of the number of languages and certainly not because of the “way the alphabet font is linked”. For what it is worth, the latter bit is more in the realms of internationalization and there are efforts at multiple levels to ensure that the remaining few outstanding issues get fixed.

 

This brings us to a small gripe I’ve had about a lot of Free and Open Source Software projects who take their L10n communities and participants for granted. I’ve rarely seen a project board reach out and talk with the participants to figure out what can be done to make things better. For example, would a community doing L10n do more awesome work if they were funded for a 2 day translation sprint ? Do the language communities have specific requirements on the translation and content infrastructure or, the translation workflow ? Have these issues been brought up in Technical Board meetings ? GNOME isn’t the only one which repeatedly fails to do this transparently, but it is among the highly visible FOSS projects which seems to assume that it is an obligation of its volunteer contributors to keep the statistics ticking.

A question, a survey, a conversation and some feedback

During the recent elections Richard Stallman had a specific question for the candidates. Copying from the archives, here’s the question:

Here is a question for the candidates.
To advance to the goal of freedom for software users, we need to develop good free software, and we need to teach people to value and demand the freedom that free software offers them. We need to advance at the practical level and at the philosophical level.
GNOME is good free software, and thus contributes at the practical level. How will candidates use the user community’s awareness of GNOME to contribute to educating the communityn about freedom?
At a stretch the question is similar in theme to the questions/concerns around GNOME and Free Software ideals that come up from time to time. I recall reading similar questions during earlier elections and, it isn’t specifically new or, something that has come out of the blue.
I came to know of the survey when I read the micro-blog from Lefty. And, then we had a bit of conversation.
Personally, I don’t feel comfortable about the survey.
The line of reasoning is as follows – as a member of the GNOME Foundation one has the right to express one’s opinion about the direction and focus of the Foundation by supporting the appropriate (set of) candidate(s). From the perspective of a Foundation it is perfectly valid to focus on areas which are aligned with the very reason for the Foundation and the project to exist. In fact, focussing only on those areas wouldn’t and shouldn’t be taken amiss. In short, the Foundation can choose to exercise what it should work on in the near or long term future or, it shouldn’t. As long as such goals and tasks do not appear to be detrimental to the cause of Free and Open Source Software things should work out nicely.
I hasten to add that similar should be the focus of the Free Software Foundation as well. The survey attempts to somewhat codify this implicit responsibility areas and, I do get the feeling that the specific question
“In what way would you ordinarily refer to “an operating system based on a Linux kernel and using mainstream, mainly community-developed components and applications”? (Distributions representing such include Debian, Gentoo, Fedora, Open SuSE, etc. Android does not qualify, nor does WebOS, etc.)”
is implicitly divisive. An “us/them” meme that has been festering on the foundation-list for a while now.
I did not participate in the survey. I don’t want to. I’d rather like GNOME to focus on being an excellent desktop environment with strong technical and technology focus going back to the times when I started using it as my primary desktop. The Board needs to work out its focus and, work on the project’s future with much more rigor than it does now. To me the survey is just a passing distraction. Mildly entertaining but probably not productive.

GSoC and beyond…

Karsten has a nice blog post and, an even nicer report on GSoC 2009 from the perspective of The Fedora Project-JBoss umbrella organization. If you haven’t already gone through it, it would be good to read it up and, provide feedback.

An immediate benefit of any project participating in the Summer of Code is the ability to get exciting extensions or, innovations via a group of highly talented individuals – both mentors and, contributors. Having had the opportunity to look at the projects from fairly close quarters over a period of years, there are a couple of things that stood out. Some of them are listed on my wiki page. I’d say that the most important thing is to “have a plan“. A stage of proper planning which sets the expectations and deliverables for a GSoC proposal goes a long way in becoming a successful proposal. That, coupled with a scheduled update-review cycle makes it a proposal that has a constant communication channel. I was reminded of the this fantastic mentoring how-to today while reading the latest issue of The GNOME Journal (as an aside, you should read this issue).

If you look at the wiki page I pointed out earlier, you’ll note that I mention an “annual round-up”. This by itself is very trivial to do and yet very important.. It provides an yardstick by which to measure the success or, failure of a GSoC experience of being able to generate sustained and relevant participation. For example, if projects did more of this kind of “where are they now ?” series, it provides upcoming and potential contributors with role-models they can look up to or, be like.

That single act of being able to have role models makes for a tremendous motivation to become a sustained contributor to Free and Open Source Software.

Context,subtext and inter-text

There are two points with which I’d like to begin:

  • One, in their Credits to Contributors section, Mozilla (for both Firefox and Thunderbird) state that “We would like to thank our contributors, whose efforts make this software what it is. These people have helped by writing code and documentation, and by testing. They have created and maintained this product, its associated development kits, our build tools and our web sites.” (Open Firefox, go to Help -> About Mozilla Firefox -> Credits, and click on the Contributors hyperlink)
  • Two, whether with design or, with inadvertent serendipity, projects using Transifex tend to end up defining their portals as “translate.<insert_project_name>.domain_name”. Translation, as an aesthetic requirement is squarely in the forefront. And, in addition to the enmeshed meaning with localization, the mere usage of the word translation provides an elevated meaning to the action and, the end result.

A quick use of the Dictionary applet in GNOME provides the following definition of the word ‘translation':

The act of rendering into another language;  interpretation; as, the translation of idioms is  difficult. [1913 Webster]

With each passing day innovative software is released under the umbrella of various Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) projects. For software that is to be consumed as a desktop application, the ability to be localized into various languages makes the difference in wide adoption and usage. Localization (or, translation) projects form important and integral sub-projects of various upstream software development projects.

In somewhat trivial off-the-cuff remarks which make translation appear easier than it actually is, it is often said that translation is the act of rendering into a target language the content available in the source language. However, localization and translation are not merely replacing the appropriate word or phrases from one language (mostly English) to another language. It requires an understanding of the context, the form, the function and most importantly the idiom of the target language ie. the local language. And yet, in addition to this, there is the fine requirement of the localized interface being usable, while being able to appropriate communicate the message to users of the software – technical and non-technical alike.

There are multiple areas that were briefly touched in the above paragraph. The most important of them being the interplay of context-subtext and inter-text. Translation, by all accounts, provides a referential equivalence. This is because languages and, word forms evolve separately. And, in spite of adoption and assimilation of words from languages, the core framework of a language remains remarkably unique. Add to this mix the extent with which various themes (technology, knowledge, education, social studies, religion) organically evolve and, there is a distinct chance that idioms and meta-data of words,phrases which are so commonplace in a source language, may not be relevant or, present at all in the target language.

This brings about two different problems. The first, whether to stay true to the source language or, whether to adapt the form to the target language. And, the second, as to how far would losses in translations be acceptable. The second is somewhat unique – translations, by their very nature have the capacity to add/augment to the content, to take away/subtract from the content thereby creating a ‘loss’ or, they can adjust and hence provide an arbitrary measure of compensation. The amount of improvement or, comprehension a piece of translated term can bring forward is completely dependent on the strength of the local language and, the grasp over the idiomatic usage of the same that the translator brings to the task at hand. More importantly, it becomes a paramount necessity that the translator be very well versed in the idioms of the source language in additional to being colloquially fluent in the target language.

The first problem is somewhat more delicate – it differs when doing translations for content as opposed to when translating strings of the UI. Additionally, it can differ when doing translations for a desktop environment like, for example, Sugar. The known user model of such a desktop provides a reference, a context that can be used easily when thinking through the context of words/strings that need to be translated. A trivial example is the need to stress on terms that are more prevalent or, commonly used. A pit-fall is of course it might make the desktop “colloquial”. And yet, that would perhaps be what makes it more user-friendly. This paradox of whether to be source-centric or, target-friendly is amplified when it comes to terms which are yet to evolve their local equivalents in common usage. For example, terms like “Emulator” or, “Tooltip” or, “Iconify”being some of the trivial and quick examples.

I can pick up the recent example of “Unmove” from PDFMod to illustrate a need to appreciate the evolution of English as a language and, to point to the need for the developers to listen to the translators and localization communities. The currently available tools and, processes do not allow a proper elaboration of the context of the word. In English, within the context of an action word “move” it is fairly easy to take a guess at what “Unmove” would mean. In languages where the usage of the action word “move” in the context of an operation on a computer desktop (here’s a quirk – the desktop is a metaphor that is being adopted to be used within the context of a computation device) is evolving, Unmove itself would not lend itself well to translation. Such “absent contexts” are the ones which create a “loss in translation”.

The singularity here is that the source language strings can evolve beautifully if feedback is obtained from the translated language in terms of what does improve the software. The trick is perhaps how best to document the context of the words and phrases to enable a much richer and useful translated UI. And, work on tooling that can include and incorporate such feedback. For example, there are enormous enhancements that can be trivially (and sometimes non-trivially) made to translation memory or, machine translation software so as to enable a much sharper equivalence.

(The above is a somewhat blog representation of what I planned to talk about at GNOME.Asia had my travel agent not made a major mess of the visa papers.)

Lost in translation ?

From a recent mail on the Foundation list, here’s an interesting quote:

Collaboration among advisory board members: Now that we have a sys admin team in place would like to find ways that we can collaborate better. Mentioned an article by J5 that talked about that RH, Novell and others are less involved because of the maintenance burden.They spend time on money on things like translations. No process to get them upstream and so they do it all over again next year.

It is the last line that I find a bit off-key and, out of context.

The post is brought to you by lekhonee v0.7

Elections, candidates and questions

The final list of candidates for the GNOME Foundation 2009 Elections are out. The statement(s) from each of the candidates are somewhat shorter than what they used to be. However, given that it is as good a time as any to ask questions to the candidates, I figured a couple of them below (the appropriate forum has the questions already) would not be out of order:

  • What are the specific areas of the Foundation’s focus and strategy where you think you can contribute as a change agent ?
  • What, in your view, are the top 5 requirements (from a strategic perspective) of the GNOME communities/tribes/groups world-wide ?

As always, it would be an interesting year for the Foundation with lots of coolness coming up.

GNOME.Asia Summit 2009: The dates are in.

Some days back I posted a small mail to the GNOME Marketing List, which has gone somewhat un-noticed. So, with the obligatory drum-rolls, trumpets, cymbals and usual oohs and aahs, here’s the big announcement:

GNOME.Asia Summit 2009 would be held during the 3rd and 4th of December 2009 at Pune, India.

Ok. That was fairly easy. The big ticket items that would be posted soon-ish are:

  • news about the web-site
  • unveiling of the logo for the event
  • Venue and accommodation related stuff
  • Call for Papers (yes, the absolute thrill of previewing good topics is irresistible)

So, here’ what those of us working towards making this event a success would request you to do.

The GNOME.Asia Summit 2009 is aimed towards a much wider coverage by pulling in users and developers (hmm… what’s new you say ?), ISVs, OEMs (especially NetBook OEMs), tools and infrastructure folks, documentation folks and of course participants from other desktop environments. Since we may (or, most likely may not) know all these folks, if you’d be knowing someone who should be at the event, do help us get in touch with them (drop a comment on this blog entry and, I’ll make sure that we are talking). Additionally, pass the word around to your favorite GNOME folks in order to cajole/coax/tantrum them into attending. And, if you are a company who is interested in sponsorship – you are one person I’d love to start a conversation with the moment I return from my (supposed ;)) vacation.

In short, please give the event some love and, help make this a wonderful summit to attend.

Some more on education

Taking up from where I left it last time around, one aspect that should work out is producing a distribution that is packaged with applications relevant to education. The catch phrase over here is “relevant to education”. And, it means thinking about something what the Fedora Electronic Labs does.

The Fedora Education SIG seems to have a slightly different approach and, a different objective. Especially the part:

The Fedora Education Spin is the number one goal right now and includes software to use it as a terminal server client. In parallel some SIG members work in integrating K12LTSP into Fedora. Once that work is finished it remains to be seen if we integrate that work into the Fedora Education Spin.

It would be good to try and see if a Fedora based release can be done which gets installed out-of-the-box and, somewhat along the lines of this blog entry, wrap meta-data around the applications so that it becomes relevant to the target consumer. There are a couple of hops to go before LTSP and such can be packaged into a complete ‘solution’ that comes preloaded with relevant content. Getting the bits out there for playing would also allow a lot of volunteer driven innovation to land up and enhance the process.

I guess I am talking more about the modular breakdown of competencies that allow a larger group of people to start contributing in whatever way they can. Having such a bit would help in FiE and OCiE as well. Ideally, this could be something that is possible to be explored by any upstream project irrespective of whether it is a distribution. So, let’s say a GNOME-Edu compose set that let’s one package a lot of educational applications using GNOME bits to make it available as a functional-out-of-the-box installation.

lazyweb …

Dear Lazyweb,

I have forgotten the password on the GNOME Damned Lies. Is there a way I can get it to mail me a password or, send me a reset password link ?

~sankarshan

Update: Claude Paroz helped reset the password and make it available. You r0ck Claude !!

Take-away: If someone is interested, looks like a “reset forgotten password” functionality requires some love. Should be a small project.