PHNOM PEN, Cambodia, 30 July 2004
Until now, a native Cambodian has needed to be able to read in a foreign language to be able to send email in Cambodia. Software was not available in Khmer. But APC’s member organisation in Cambodia, the Open Forum, is changing that. The KhmerOS portal, set up earlier this year to bring together previously isolated developers is starting out by providing Khmer translations of well-known free applications such as the powerful e-mail application, Thunderbird. Thunderbird was ready for use after just two months – sixty days earlier than expected! The Open Forum has sent APC the report on their advances in the first half of 2004.
Report – February-July 2004
From the Open Forum of Cambodia
KhmerOS is an initiative aimed at creating basic final-user software in Khmer, so that users will not have to learn a foreign language in order to acquire computer skills.
This initiative fits quite well in the OFC objectives of giving civil society support through technology. OFC thinks that the lack of local language software exacerbates the digital divide, makes basic computer training difficult and expensive, impoverishes local culture, and blocks computer-based government processes, as the local language script cannot be used in databases.
For this semester, the goals of the project office were to develop an English-Khmer Glossary of computer terms, and to start the development of the first application, an e-mail client program, therefore allowing people to communicate in Khmer without having to learn English. Other goals included trying to coordinate efforts by other people which would advance the use of Khmer in computers.
Two new staff members (computer scientists) were hired for this project in the middle of February, and started working on the Glossary. A first version of it was finished at the beginning of April, and sent to a committee of eight expert computer science teachers, linguists and others. With their feedback a new version of the glossary was made. One more meeting led to the present version of the glossary. Depending on available resources, next semester we will hire one or two staff members who will continue work on the glossary and create a real Khmer-Khmer glossary.
In April, a Khmer typographer was hired whose job is to work on typography-related issues, key to the project, but difficult to include into specific projects. His tasks have included language research, improvement of fonts and writing font and typing related documents.
At the end of April, the two KhmerOS translators started the translation of Thunderbird 0.5, an e-mail client program. Four months were planned for the translation, but it has finished in less than two months. Changes still need to be made, as some Glossary terms have changed during the time the translation was taking place, but the translation speed is twice what we expected. This speed shows very clearly the quality and dedication of the KhmerOS translation team, and gives very high hopes of being able to do much more than we expected during the two years that the first stage of KhmerOS is supposed to last.
On his side, Javier Solá, the KhmerOS project coordinator, has been producing tools that are necessary to advance on the use of Khmer Unicode. These tools include:
Converters to turn texts typed in ABC and Limon Khmer legacy fonts into Unicode texts. These converters are now being widely used for projects external to OFC.
Dictionary search tools for typographical and orthographical research. These tools can search for any word in the dictionary using wild cards.
A program for making changes in the Khmer master word list.
A collation (sorting) program that sorts following the rules used by the Chuon Nat Khmer-Khmer dictionary.
Some of the tools necessary for the translation and for the inclusion of the translations in the programs are not yet 100% finished. In particular, Javier Solá has participated in the documentation and testing of a set of tools called TRANSLATE which are an important base to produce the files that need to be translated.
KhmerOS personnel have received training on the installation and use of the GNU/Linux Operating System and some of its applications (90 minutes a day for two weeks). The training was done in-house by volunteer computer scientist Jens Herden.
The project was presented to the press in a press conference on April 21st. It was attended by 55 journalists from 42 different organisations (32 newspapers, 2 magazines, four radio stations and 4 TV stations), which should be considered an excellent response. It resulted in wide coverage on television and radio channels, the front page of various newspapers and articles in many others.