Why Microsoft Swahili version failed

Yona F. Maro

Nov 2, 2006
March 12, 2008: When Microsoft announced in 2003 that it had launched a Kiswahili version of their Microsoft Office applications, linguists saw it as a big triumph for the language — and a chance to make its speakers have a feel of the emerging technology and in their own language.

However, five years later, the roar has turned into a whimper.

Microsoft is not forthcoming with answers, but a debate is shaping up on what may have gone wrong.

“It failed miserably on the roll out process because Microsoft never pushed the product,” says Mr Patrick Opiyo, managing director of Rivotex Kenya, a consulting dealer for Microsoft Technologies, who was then Microsoft’s localisation manager.

Mr Isaiah Okoth, who was at the time the general manager of Microsoft East Africa, said the new Kiswahili office application, if marketed well, would have allowed many Kiswahili speakers to experience personal computing in their home language.

It had taken close to two years to develop the programme at a cost of Sh8 million, drawing linguistic experts from East and Central Africa. The programme was headed by Prof Kulikoyela Kahigi of the University of Dar- es- Salaam.

They (MS) will only be transfixed back on it when they see a killer net based application that is wholesome swahili. Untill then, the ball is in the court of swahili speakers who doubles as application developers.

Microsoft Introduces Applications in Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo.

By Jonah Iboma


Before the end of 2008, Microsoft Corporation will include Nigeria's dominant languages -Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo in the Microsoft Office application suite.

MS Office is a group of applications consisting of Word, a word processing application; PowerPoint, used for presentations; Excel, a spreadsheet application, and Access, an application used for databases.

By the inclusion, of the indigenous languages, users of the applications will be able to see them displayed in their preferred languages and commands can be given and receive received in any of the local languages.

Citizenship Manager, Microsoft Nigeria, Mrs. Jummai Ajijola, told our correspondent in an interview in Lagos that work had reached advanced stages on the project, which she said was designed to bring technology closer to people on the Africa continent.

She added that the project was part of a bigger scheme by Microsoft to include African languages in its applications so that more people could use technology in their local languages.

Ajijola said eight African languages were involved in the entire project including Kiswahili, Wollof, Amharic and the three Nigerian languages.

She said the drive for the project was based on the need to make technology available to people by removing the language barrier.

"You do not have to speak English for you to be able to access technology. We can make it available to you whatever language you speak, so there can be more users of technology," she said.

The project, Ajijola said, involved massive language translation work in collaboration with individuals and groups in the educational and IT sectors.

The main translation was being undertaken by Dr. Tunde Adegbola of Lyder in Ibadan Oyo State, while the initial works were done by a number of professors at the University of Lagos.

Besides, a local IT firm, Softworks Nigeria Limited, had also played a leading role in bringing the experts together.

Ajijola said a massive awareness campaign would be embarked upon by Microsoft to make people know about the work, while the inauguration of the project would be aimed the rural populace by involving traditional rulers across the country.

She noted that this was because the traditional rulers were the closer to the people, adding that it the scheme implemented as a corporate social responsibility.

Ajijola said the programme could also include the Fulani language in the future as it was being spoken in a number of West African and Central African countries.

Many Microsoft applications are currently available in several of the world's languages with African languages being among the last to be included.

But the development seemed to further reflect the increasing competition among major IT firms to make their products have the widest reach as possible.

In 2006 Google announced the inclusion of the Yoruba language as an option for use in its search engine.
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