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My Date With IRMA

I have been having clandestine dates with IRMA. She's new around the Linspire office. My wife doesn't know about IRMA yet, but I don't think she'll mind because IRMA isn't a person - it's a special project that Linspirians have built to help bring Linspire to more countries around the world.

Here's the challenge we're facing: There are more than 6,000 languages in the world, yet Linspire is available in only 4 (English, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish). So, the majority of the globe can't use Linspire in their native tongue. Unfortunately, it costs about $250,000 to create a complete translation into another language if you hire a translation firm. It's also a time-consuming and complicated process because there are more than 400 files, that reside throughout the entire operating system that have to be touched. It's a large and complex undertaking.

See screenshots of IRMA

IRMA (International Resource Management Application) is a system we built that makes the translation process a point-and-click experience for anyone who speaks English and another language and who wants to help. Instead of an expensive translation firm, we are turning to our Insiders to help bring Linspire to a wider audience. Insiders are our special community of users who get access to early versions of our software. They have chats and discussions with our company to help shape our product and strategy with their input, and they also test our products to maximize quality.

Our goal is to get Linspire into the 50 live languages that Voyager spacecrafts are carrying. In 1977, Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in an attempt to reach another planetary system, estimated to take 40,000 years. Inside the capsules are images, sounds, music, and greetings in 55 languages. You can listen to those greetings here. (Some are dead languages, which is why our goal doesn't include every language.) For the Voyager task, the native speaker just spoke any greeting they wished (there was no script).

Learn more about IRMA

Translation tasks are a bit more involved than simply speaking a small phrase, because hundreds of files have to be translated. These are the files that contain all the words and phrases that a user sees when they use Linspire. These could be on one-word menu names, or phrases that are error codes, or even sentences that a user might see during the initial installation process. As of this writing, 70 Insiders have volunteered to join a translation team to help with this task.

I hope some of you will consider becoming Insiders and joining a translation team. I should stress that there's absolutely no technical knowledge required and you won't have to do any programming. Many non-programmers have asked me how they can contribute to Linux in a meaningful way, and joining a translation team is a fantastic way to grow Linux that doesn't involve programming. IRMA makes the whole process as easy as viewing a web page, entering in translation for words or phrases, and then clicking the "Save" button. You can even track on an ongoing basis what percentage of a translation is completed. And as an Insider, you will get access to early versions of Linspire software (including the in-progress translation efforts), as well as to other services, forums, chats, and special offers that only Insiders receive.

In the first half of 2005, we hope that we are able to reach many more users in their native language. With the help of IRMA and some dedicated Insiders, I believe we can do it. I'll try to keep you updated periodically on our progress.

-- Michael

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