Debian gives Linux a Bhutanese touch

Bhutan, a country of 700,000 inhabitants that sits between China and India, now has its own Debian-based operating system in the national language, Dzongkha.

The system, launched earlier this month, was built by the local Department of Information Technology and consists of a CD which can be either installed or used as a live CD. The installation system uses Morphix rather than the standard Debian Installer which was not ready at the time of release

The CD includes a complete set of Dzongkha-localized applications, namely the Gnome environment, the OpenOffice suite, the Mozilla Web browser, the Evolution mail reader and GAIM as instant messaging application.

Debian developer Christian Perrier was invited by the Bhutanese government to give a keynote speech at the launch.

Perrier said it is important that users have computers that work in their own language, and that free software leads the way over proprietary software in allowing this to happen.

"They [the Bhutanese people] were very responsive to the idea that the main challenge of free software is for countries to keep the knowledge and develop it in their own country for the benefit of themselves and their culture," he said.

"Getting more localization in a distribution brings the operating system as close as possible to the user. In order to do this, you need to translate all the material, from the installation system through to the documentation."

Internationalization in Debian is a long-running story.

The Woody installer, which came out in 2002, supported 16 languages and Sarge which came out in 2005 supported 42 languages. Etch, the current version in development which is due out in December can be installed in 63 languages.

Perrier heads up the effort to find translators for as many languages as possible through the Debian-i18n mailing list.

"We are working hard on coming up with a strong framework for i18n that will enable people to more easily customize Debian in their own language," he said.

The "i18n framework" in Debian is currently a collection of small pieces that are not always related.

"This is actually inherent of the very widely distributed nature of the development of Debian, when compared to more monolithic projects like KDE, or Gnome," Perrier said.

A project was started in May this year, in collaboration with WordForge, to develop a framework to assist all i18n and l10n work in Debian.

"This is a very ambitious project which could lead to something that may seem similar to Ubuntu's Rosetta project. The main difference is that it will be entirely based on free software and it will try to establish some communication standards for interaction between l10n projects," Perrier said.

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