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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 December 2004, 09:14 GMT
'Jambo' to open source software
Jambo OpenOffice
Word processing in Swahili
Millions of computer users can now say "jambo", or hello, to new open source office software in Swahili.

Swahili is spoken by an estimated 100 million people in East Africa, with around 10% having access to computers.

The software, called Jambo OpenOffice, is available for free and is similar in functionality to Microsoft's popular Office programmes.

Its designers describe it as a major initiative towards a full operating system in Swahili.

It is part of an international initiative called The Open Swahili Localization Project - or kilinux - based in Tanzania.

The software, which is 85% translated and runs on Linux, has been released to the public as part of a development strategy.

Grass roots

The programme's technical director Alberto Escudero Pascual says he is hoping for feedback from businesses and public institutions for future releases.

"Everyone is free to use it, but our efforts are to get it into the schools - that is where the next generation of Swahili speakers will be," Mr Escudero Pascual told BBC News.

He said the aim of the project is to eventually have Swahili language software operating on thousands of computers at grass roots levels, including primary schools and universities.

Swahili is spoken in many African nations, including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique and parts of the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region.

Most computer operating systems and software in Swahili-speaking areas are in English or French.

"Swahili is the biggest common denominator - it's what people think and talk in. We should try to get people educated in their own language," Mr Escudero Pascual said.

Microsoft announced plans in June for a Swahili version of its Windows operating software to cater for a growing number of users in Africa.

Analysts say Linux and other open source software pose a growing threat to Microsoft's dominant Windows operating system, which is used on more than 90% of the world's computers.


Open source systems - such as Linux - allow computer users and programmers to view and change the original programme code and create new applications without paying a licence fee.

Because open source is free, it can offer big opportunities for developing countries where widespread computer access is difficult due to high costs involved in setting up computer systems, buying licences and software support.

"For now, I imagine we are going to see all primary schools running Linux and open source software - not only here but in other countries," Mr Escudero Pascual said.

"People cannot afford the costly prices of licensing."

The team behind Jambo OpenOffice aims to release a version of the software capable of running on Microsoft Windows in February next year.

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