Thursday, August 27, 2009

Globalization, Internationalization, Localization and The Total Experience

Jason Lackey

Native speakers of English and those using relatively plain versions of the Roman Alphabet have it easy with regards to high tech in general and computers and computer-like devices. The reason I say this is that since many of these things were either invented or refined in English speaking countries support of English and the Roman Alphabet is usually pretty good. In fact, these might be the only language and character set choices available. Great for Americans, not so wonderful for others.

Although InnoPath is based in the US, we try to be a very international company. Part of this is we have to. Our market is global, our customers are all over the world. Part of this is a conscious decision and part of this is the organic result of having a very diverse staff at our Silicon Valley headquarters along with offices in Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Mumbai, London and Atlanta.

This international perspective is reflected not only in our attitudes and workforce, it is also reflected in our products. The ability to deliver the UI in the user's native language makes a real difference. The US is spoiled, here we demand everything in English and people don't even like to see movies with subtitles. Other countries should be able to enjoy products and services in the native language of the user but far too often such is not the case. With the InnoPath Care Portal the portal reads the browser's language settings and presents the UI in the user's language of choice. Certainly many people over the world can read and function in English, but it provides the user with a better and more welcoming experience when they can work in their native language.

Internationalization (i18n) also known as Globalization - is the process of designing and building your product in such a way that it can easily be adapted to a number of different languages and locales. Some of the factors include being able to effectively deal with foreign characters - Roman alphabet with diacritical marks, non-Roman characters such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean, Hindi etc. Unicode, a character set containing all the world's scripts (or at least many of the world's scripts) is often used. Challenges include coping with left to right as well as right to left and/or up to down reading direction, handing text input and coping with a variety of input method editors.

Localization (L10n) is the process of taking a product and translating it for a particular locale or language. If a product has been properly internationalized from the start then this is an easier process. For example, the InnoPath Care Portal contains text for the UI in a resource file. This makes it easy to edit the text of the UI without touching the code. A non-globalized approach might have text for the UI hardwired into the code, meaning that any changes will involve hunting through and changing the code, a time consuming and potentially risky process. Places sharing the same or similar languages may treat things like address, dates and times differently, so these concerns would have to be addressed as well.

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