Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The language issue in Linux distro web sites.

If you go to the website for SUSE linux, a distro made in Germany, you might find it hard to find any German language at all, especially in negotiating your way through the download pages or the help forums. Same with finding any language other than English at Mediainlinux, made in Italy. If you go to the website for Knoppix, made by Germans, all you have to do is click on one US/British flag, and you're done with worrying about languages. Similarly, for Paipix, you just have to click on one link for [EN], and all your lanaguage problems are done. These latter two do a wonderful job of accomodating a multilingual international audience.

A less successful model, in my opinion, was that of the website for kanotix in 2005. For quite some time there were too many places where the German and English content were jumbled together, or snippets of English buried in largely German pages.
  1. For example, the official English forums are to be found by going to the forum and then paging down past several categories of German ones to get to the English ones.
  2. If you wanted to log on to the wiki, even to help write an article in English, you had to go to a page that was all German in its interfaces. I experienced a problem there upon registering that my userid violated some rules (lacking a capital letter), but the error messages were all in German.
  3. Clicking on the links for downloaindg brought me to a page where there was English buried under German I left looking for another English page and never found one.
  4. For the longest time, the website defaulted back to German interfaces every time you hit a new page, even if you were to choose "English" in a small drop-down to the side, unless one were a logged-in, registered user. This got me in the habit of maddeningly clicking through the front page (default in German) for announcements, and so I missed a news item telling me not to dist-upgrade. I wrecked my system.
The last item was the least excusable one, and when I complained in their fora, it got the strongest defense. It seemed that to some degree they were circling the wagons in response to suggestions for improvement. They were invoking the international nature of the community using the OS, and the non-native-English speaking-ness of the distro designers. See Paragraph One above.

So I quit using the distro (installed SUSE, and ubuntu) back in December 2005, and then started testing all kinds of live CD distros. I wrote one blog post a few weeks ago where I complained that kanotix was not for non-German speakers based on my 2005 experience. Since then, I looked back at the site, and problems 2-4 are fixed. I hope I didn't besmirch the helpfulness of the people, I just thought the distro's web site was plagued by a sloppy approach to bilingualness. But three of four problems I griped about regarding language in kanotix web sites are fixed. I am posting a correction.

I still hold up the examples of the knoppix and paipix as the ideal to strive for in internationally-acclaimed software and OS web sites.

Just for the record, I wasn't the only one to complain:

  • I wrote in "Learning German" in the kanotix forum:
    1) The Kanotix team are dedicated, brilliant, genuinely humanitarian folks.
    2) The German language barrier on some interfaces (like a broken wiki) makes some newbies demand more attention directly from the technical genuises.
    I'm suggesting that the kanotix team just take a breather, look at how some of the stuff might appear to present an unnecessary language barrier. Then some of those anglophones gushing with praise for kanotix in this forum could start writing wiki articles. The payback would eventually mean less newbies berating the technical team on IRC out of frustration. I know. I was one of them once.

  • Danielle writes in "This Website Can Be A Real Pain" in the kanotix forum:
    "Update: trying from Underground Linux right now: things seem to be better, but it takes several attempts before you can get English as your default language."

  • Andy King write in Making the jump to Linux: Six frustrations
    "The sixth, and final frustration, is the fact that I don't understand German -- most of the content on the Kanotix site is in German!!! Why didn't I take German???"

  • I wrote in my blog in 2005:
    "So I was a big fan of the kanotix distribution, and pushing it on all my friends, including my local LUG, who had never heard of it.
    Eventually I grew tired of the distribution and went on to choose kubuntu and SUSE. Most of the reasons revolve around the German language:"

  • Andrew Raevsky wrote in 2006 at NewsForge:
    "Remember, kanotix is currently a german focused distro, but all the developers have no problems with english, so that's not an issue. "

  • bigkahuna at blender artists said in 2004:
    "I used Kanotix for about a year, the only negative I can think of is that most of the users are German speaking, so getting easy to understand help in English can sometimes take a couple tries."

  • anonymous reader at linux.com writes:
    "Yes the Kanotix site is in German *as the default* but you can translate it to any of about 10 languages by choosing a drop-down menu on the far left of the screen."

  • VMWare's has a virtual appliances directory says:
    "Kanotix is a German-language Linux distribution, based on Debian-sid (unstable) and KDE 3.5. It is also usable as a LiveCD. 977MB zipped."

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