Agored, an English-Welsh word processor could make life easier for bilingual communities around the world.
The software, developed by the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, contains prominent buttons to switch the language of the user interface between English and Welsh. Similar buttons change the language used by the spelling checker, either for the whole document or for one paragraph.
Agored, named for the Welsh word for open, is based on the open-source application OpenOffice.org 2.0. There's already a Welsh language version of OpenOffice, but the application interface only shows one language at a time, and changing it involves delving into the menus.
Much of the bilingual functionality that Agored adds to the interface is already present in OpenOffice, but not readily accessible, said David Chan, a programmer who worked on the project. Agored makes it easier for users to sit down in front of a computer and switch the application to their strongest language, he said.
Almost one in four of the country's 2.8 million inhabitants speak, read or write Welsh, according to the latest national census, but there are few exclusively Welsh-speaking communities left. "Those people need bilingual software, not Welsh software," Chan said.
In addition to the coding, a lot of work went into the translation of Agored's menu items, dialogs and numerous help files - around half a million words in all, according to Diarmuid Johnson, who worked on the translation.
The University of Wales at Aberystwyth developed Agored with funding from the National Assembly for Wales, the Welsh public television channel S4C and the Welsh Language Board. Some of the computer-related terms had already been defined by the Welsh Language Board in a joint project with Microsoft in 2004 that led to the creation of a Welsh language interface pack for Office 2003, Johnson said.
In the three days following Agored's release on 16 November, it had been downloaded 200 times, Chan said.
The functions that Agored adds to OpenOffice could interest many more people than that, though. Chan said the project team took care to make their code changes useful to other bilingual communities, groups that could include speakers of English and Irish Gaelic in Ireland; of French and Dutch in the Belgian capital of Brussels; of French and German in Switzerland, and of Basque and Spanish or of Catalan and Spanish in Spain. Chan said he had already been contacted by Catalan speakers during Agored's development.
Speakers of Catalan and Welsh have another IT interest in common: Internet top-level domains (TLDs) to promote their languages and cultures.
Domain name registry Fundació puntCAT won approval from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to create the dot-cat TLD for the Catalan linguistic and cultural community in September 2005. One year later, Fundació puntCAT said it had registered 17,500 dot-cat domains.
Inspired by the Catalan success, a Welsh group has launched a campaign for a Welsh TLD, dot-cym. The campaigners hope that dot-cym will stimulate the use of Welsh on the Web in the same way that the creation of the dot-cat TLD led to the creation of sites written in the Catalan language.
Earlier this month, members of the National Assembly of Wales voted to support the dot-cym campaign.