Software Arabization

Researcher Rashad Mahmood has written a well-researched article on the Arabization of software for the current issue of Business Monthly. It gives an informative overview on the history of attempts to bring software to the Middle East, and explains the main obstacles. Excerpts:
Despite the huge potential for Arabization, companies face several hurdles in adapting western software for Arabic users, says Maged Makram, localization project manager at Microsoft Egypt. “Arabization is much more challenging than converting to another western language. For example, if converting to French, a company simply has to replace the English text with French text, then do a quick check on the interfaces, and then they’re done. For Arabic, it is completely different. All screens need to be mirrored (switched to read right to left), icons and arrows need to be flipped, and menus need to be reversed.�

Another difficulty is the lack of agreement over PC-related terminology. “Some companies use one Arabic word, while others use another,� Makram says. For example, some software companies translate the word “disk drive� as “sawaq al-aqras,� literally “driver of the disk.� Microsoft, however, prefers “muharrik al-aqras,� literally “disk engine,� which is closer to the original English meaning. Such discrepancies can confuse users when switching between programs, especially those unfamiliar with computers.

....and on the English characters domain name system:
Perhaps the last major barrier to a fully Arabic Internet is the domain name system – traditionally the realm of English characters. As it stands, at least a basic familiarity with English characters is necessary to browse websites. However, the latest versions of web browsers such as Internet Explorer 7 beta and Firefox 1.5 make it possible to type in website addresses in non-English scripts including Arabic, Cyrillic and Chinese. These browsers have a built-in conversion tool that changes the non-English characters of so-called internationalized domain names (IDNs) into Punycode, an encoding system that lets browsers visually represent domain names in multilingual script.