Windows 98: Babel wasn't built in a day

While June 25 may herald the arrival of English, German and Canadian French versions of Windows 98, Microsoft is still busy preparing the operating system for its release in other parts of the world. In countries where English is widely spoken, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, the software is expected to be launched this month whether a local language version is available or not. Other countries, including Russia and Greece, will wait as long as five months for the chance to upgrade from Windows 95.

While June 25 may herald the arrival of English, German and Canadian French versions of Windows 98, Microsoft is still busy preparing the operating system for its release in other parts of the world.

In countries where English is widely spoken, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, the software is expected to be launched this month whether a local language version is available or not. Other countries, including Russia and Greece, will wait as long as five months for the chance to upgrade from Windows 95, Microsoft officials say.

To cut down on those wait times -- as well the workload of localising the software into 30 languages -- Microsoft opted to write a core, English version of the operating system that includes as many features as possible needed to support non-English versions, says Brian Shafer, international marketing manager for Windows 98.

For example, the dialogue box in the English version is flexible enough to contain as many characters as are needed in the German version, so the German localisation team won't have to rewrite that part of the product.

Also, the core version contains support for single- and double-byte character sets, bi-directional text and multiple keyboard layouts. Localisation teams can evoke those functions as needed, rather than have to build them themselves, Shafer says.

In tandem with the development of the English product at its Redmond, Washington, campus, Microsoft also wrote German and Japanese versions of Windows 98 so that developers could test capabilities in a variety of systems as they went along.

After gathering feedback from localisation teams in Ireland, Japan and Korea, where most of the translation work is being done, Microsoft signed off on the core, English version of the product. The localisation teams then translate the information in the screens, dialogue boxes, help files and so on.

The localisation is ahead of schedule, with eight foreign language versions of the software complete, and two to three additional languages expected to be ready by June 25, Shafer says.

The languages currently ready to go into manufacture are English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian (Portuguese and Iberian) and Japanese. Because a version of the product has been translated into a particular language, however, does not necessarily mean it will have been manufactured in sufficient quantity to meet the June launch date, Shafer says.

Microsoft leaves it to the discretion of local managers whether to launch an English version of the product in their country, or whether to wait until a local language version is available.

Following are the expected launch dates for Windows 98:

-- June 25: U.S., Canada (including a French version in Quebec), UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines.

-- July: France, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Brazil, Japan, Denmark, Taiwan.

-- August: Norway, Finland, Portugal, Korea, China.

-- September/October: Czech Republic, Poland, Thailand. Hebrew and Arabic versions also are expected to be available about this time in many countries.

-- October/November: Russia, Hungary, Turkey, Greece, Slovenia, the Slovak Republic. Basque and Catalan versions are also expected.

Following are the languages the operating system will be available in when the localisation teams have completed their work:

Arabic ,Basque, Catalan, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese (version for Intel-type processors), Japanese (version for processors from NEC Corp.), Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese-Brazilian, Portuguese-Iberian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.

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