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Tech Jargon – The Microsoft Way and the Open Source Way

January 29, 2008
Tech Jargon – The Microsoft Way and the Open Source Way Summary of talk given on ITA lecture evening, January 14, 2008

Microsoft has been a dominant desktop operating system for quite some time and consequently managed to dictate a lot of jargon to the IT field. Nowadays, open source alternatives are becoming more common on the desktop, and there are several active FOSS localization projects. It is possible that translators working on localization may find themselves localizing a linux or a cross-platform applications. A translator might translate a book article dealing with non-MS computerese.

Microsoft's approach can be described as centralist, closed, and proprietary. This means they have very a very strict license dictating what can and can't be done with their software. They, and many other software makers, close up their source code, and use proprietary file formats. They can modify their file format and force all the users who want to keep up to buy expensive upgrades, if they choose to stop supporting some older formats, the users are stuck with lots of old files that soon may be unreadable.

I once got a call from a friend who had all the files of her Master's thesis saved in version 1, which no longer available anywhere, and not readable by the then current version (version 6) of the program. I knew someone who had version 3, which could still read version 1, and version 6 could read the files with version 3. So we were very lucky, but we still had to go through two conversions to read those files.

FOSS – Free and Open Source Software is a completely different concept (Free Software and Open Source Software are no exactly the same, but there's a big overlap between them)

Free doesn't necessarily free of charge, although a lot of free software is. This doesn't there's no money in FOSS, there is, it's just usually based on selling services rather than software licenses. Free as used in free software isn't about money, it's about freedom. The FOSS community distinguishes between the two meaning of free with the common phrases:
"Free as in beer” - free of charge, like free beer (or any other commodity).
"Free as in speech” - freedom, like free speech.
Users are free to use the software in any way they see fit. They are free to study it, examine, learn how it works. they are free to share it with others. One of the places where you can witness this freedom is on the linux desktop. Most Windows users use the same desktop, with slight customizations. For linux users the desktop environment is just one of those things you choose from many different available options. You use whatever works for you.

This philosophy extends to the use of open file format. There are many file formats that aren't owned by any single corporate entity. Some have specifications that are published freely, some are ISO standards. The advantage of open file formats is that anyone is free to write a program to read and write them. Our old files don't depend on continued support from a single entity. If the old word processor that we used to write them is no longer available, there are other word processors that can read the same formats.

The freedom to study and examine the code, the file format, and the localization files also contributes to quality. This is the “more eyeballs” concept. There is a community of users and developers who contribute to the project not only by reporting bugs, but also suggesting improvements, and often even implementing them.
This is something that translators also practice. When we have a second person proofread our translation, the result is usually a better text. The differences in the two approaches extend to localization. Microsoft dictates terminology across all of its products. Translators who do localization work on Windows applications usually follow the Microsoft glossaries. FOSS localization projects follow no central authority. There are currently several on-going localization projects, some funded, others voluntary. Most projects have mailing lists, and there are more general mailing lists not tied to a specific project, as part of a trend towards some standardization across projects. The FOSS localizers do not necessarily try to follow Microsoft on all terminology, they also do not attempt to be necessarily different than Microsoft on everything. However, unlike Microsoft, translators can join the discussions, and contribute to them. If Microsoft glossaries have some weird terminology, we're just stuck with it. If FOSS projects have some unusual terminology, we can do something about it.

Often there are lively discussions on the mailing lists, and more than anything else they emphasize some of the problems we have with the jargon. Microsoft's version has gained ground, sometimes it's in line with the Academia's version, sometimes it's not. There are also many words that were commonly used before Microsoft released its first Hebrew version, and some of them stuck and are still used as alternatives. So we can still see icons referred to both as ñîìéí and as öìîéåú. We can have a few alternatives for a word like directory (the convoluted history of the various Hebrew terms used for directory is discussed here: A Guide to Translating Directory

A very old Windows glossary can be still be found on Eli Marmor's site:
it's mostly of historical interest.
Microsoft used to have a collection of glossaries on their ftp site, but they removed it.
There is a Windows glossary program called winlexic. A 30-day evaluation version can be downloaded from this site:
I didn't find the program itself very useful, except for one feature. During the installation you choose a language and it downloads a lot of Microsoft glossaries. They're in csv format (readable by Excel and any spreadsheet application), and you can search them directly.

FOSS projects use open formats as their localization files. Two common formats are XLIFF and PO. XLIFF is an xml based standardization. It's supported by many editors, including

PO is a text based format. It's supported by many editors, including: kbabel – used on KDE, a common linux desktop. poedit – used on Windows. Pootle – PO Based Online Translation/Localization Engine. Runs on the server, accessible via the web.

FOSS terminology. While there is no central repository of glossaries for FOSS projects, the localization files for most projects can be found online, and are an excellent resource. The KDE localization project main page is at The Hebrew team page is at The Hebrew User site is at All the localization files, po format, can be found there, and can be consulted for appropriate terminology.