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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 June, 2004, 19:00 GMT 20:00 UK
Microsoft to launch in Kiswahili
Gray Phombeah
BBC, Nairobi

Patrick Opiyo, Microsoft East Africa's localisation manager
Microsoft hopes to encourage literacy campaigns
Kiswahili is to be introduced into Microsoft Windows as part of a global project to increase world usage.

The software giant has agreed to translate its Office software into the language to cater for the growing number of computer users in Africa.

"We are focussed on Kiswahili because it's a language of choice in the East African region," says Microsoft East Africa's Patrick Opiyo.

The rollout of Kiswahili Microsoft products is expected in six months.

Million users

Kiswahili will be one of the new languages due to be added in a global local languages programme in response to complaints from around the world that youngsters were losing their native tongues, says Mr Opiyo.

Microsoft programmes already run in 40 languages including English, Chinese, Arabic and Spanish.

We have enlisted language experts ... to come up with a common glossary
Microsoft East Africa's Patrick Opiyo

The company argues that in a region with few computer users and high illiteracy rates, the Kiswahili version of Windows will inspire East African governments to expand their IT economies, encourage literacy campaigns and attract more computer users.

"We are putting Kiswahili closer to the people who speak the language," says Mr Opiyo.

"So we hope this initiative will re-ignite programmes of adult education and literacy by the governments in the region."

There are 100 million Kiswahili-speakers in the region - in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and parts of the Horn of Africa, Great Lakes, Malawi, Mozambique and the Indian Ocean islands.

Ten percent have access to computers, and Microsoft hopes to attract 5% more when the Kiswahili version of its products hit the market.

More to come

The other big linguistic groups to benefit from the expansion in Africa will be Hausa and Yoruba in West Africa and Amharic and Somali in the Horn of Africa.

"We have begun the process in Africa (there will be) ... other languages apart from Kiswahili," says Mr Opiyo.

"We are looking at Hausa, we are looking at Yoruba - we are also kicking off with Amharic in the next week.

"These languages will be customised and built for Windows XP and Window Office standards."

Windows XP, PA
When launched, the Kiswahili version of Windows will welcome users with an East African tune

It means computer users in parts of Africa and the diaspora will soon be able to point and click, and operate the world's most used office software in their own native languages on their computers.

Mr Opiyo admits that the inclusion of Kiswahili in Windows will pose unique challenges.

"The biggest challenge is the different dialects spoken in different countries in the region. And so it means working on the standardisation of Kiswahili - working out a common ground and common terms within the region.

"We have enlisted language experts from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zanzibar as well as the Great Lakes and the Democratic Republic of Congo and have asked them to come up with a common glossary," he explains.

But it be will fun - promises Mr Opiyo - when the Kiswahili Windows rolls out.

For one, the bells and whistles of the start menu are set to change - a Kiswahili Taarab (East African coastal music) tune will welcome users when they log on or open their email.

"Windows will be speaking Kiswahili to Swahili computer users," Mr Opiyo says.

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