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The Story


Are African Languages will be part of the Embedded Revolution?

By Amde Mitiku.

Amde Mitiku


He is Senior localization and embedded software engineer

Well,  the answer will be depend on who do you ask? More than half of the people you ask may not care about this issue, and some of the people may never though anything about this before, and the remaining will be undecided voters. I have been involved in the embedded technology development for several years and I am impressed by what these small but powerful angels are doing for our daily life.

    They are every where. Do you know that in US,  there are more than 20 embedded computers per house hold. They are every where. Let me give you a hint. When you wakeup in the morning they are in your alarm clock, or watch, when you take a shower some of them they are in your water heater, when you want to eat your breakfast they are in your refrigerator, microwave and oven. When you want to turn on your TV to see the morning traffic they are in your remote control, TV, and if you have a cable or satellite receiver they are over there too. If you want to listen to your favorite morning news they are in your radio or CD/DVD player and when you want record any thing they are in your VCR. If your cell phone rings,  they are  over there too. if you want to call your boss because you are sick,  they are in your telephone handle too. Do you have a car? If you say yes, you are surround by 100s of embedded computers. Next time if some one asks you "Do you have computer?" tell them you have 100s of them. I don't want tell your how many computers your doctor has, you may feel  like you are invaded by these embedded computers.


    The next question is, are embedded computers in Africa? You beat they are. Do people afford them? Of course, in most cases people can afford to buy a computer than  buying a goat. In Africa you can by a digital writs watch cheaper than a goat's price. Let me give one great example, if you go to Merkato, Addis Ababa Ethiopia (which is the biggest out door market in Africa) you can buy a digital watch less than 50.00 Birr but the goat or sheep cost you more than 200.00 Birr. This tell us  computers are cheaper than goat in Africa. So if everyone affords to have a computer,  why they (manufactures)  don't want make them available in African languages? There is one weak excuse I keep hearing from the manufactures,  that is "DEMAND". If the manufactures and developers think there is no DEMAND/market in Africa, I think they are blind folded. One of the biggest mistakes for big corporations is misunderstanding the potential market they could have in the third world. Most companies consulting about their product from someone who never been in that country. Most of the time what they do is, read about that county's facts and history which is more than 10 years old from the internet or from the library and they make their diction based on that. But they don't know about  more than 600 million people live in Africa and more than 2 billion people in other third world countries. That is what exactly what the embedded market is missing. I hope one day they will wake up and say " THE NEXT FRONTIER IS HERE!".

    Do you know about more than 50% educational toys have computers. Even the popular .99 Cents store have lots of gadgets who have mini computer. That tells us how much the computers are affordable and powerful to use. Do you thing an African peasant or student, doctor or engineer, nurse of teacher, merchant or banker can not afford  a computer. I am not talking about a $500.00  personal computer (PC) or laptop I am talking about embedded computer.


    I will travel next week to Phoenix, Arizona to participate on the Embedded Real Time Operating System Conference . There will be companies from all over the country/world. These are the movers and the shakers of the embedded world.  They will have everything from the fastest processor that will run the unmanned airplane to the sophisticate technology like the Bluetooth which will open your garage door from your office. I have involved in several occasions to study and work in several embedded projects. In all cases I saw that the ASCII is the dominating factor. If that is the case,  when and how the African languages which are not part of the ASCII character set will have a chance to be part of this revolution? In my trip to the RTC conference  I may have a chance to ask these questions.

    In the bright side,  the Microsoft Windows CE OS may have good promise. I was involved to develop a digital video streaming  software by PacketVideo corporation and I had a chance to see the operating system was powerful to support other non-ASCII character set of languages. I was fortunate enough to work on this project and developed a software that supports more than 7 European and Asian languages. One of the main reason why Windows CE is powerful, because of it is  based on WIN 32 API and it is a UNICODE complaint OS.   Another downside for the Windows CE os is price. Because of the huge over heads the OS will not fit in a small memory and processors, that will drive the market and will not be affordable for every one. but it is a good start. hopefully others will follow MS way. I heard  embedded Linux have a good stuff but never get a chance to work on it

At this point African languages do not have any problem to be part of the embedded world as long as the Embedded operating system is based on UNICODE. This limitation does not apply for African languages who are using the Latin characters for their writing systems such as Somali,  Swahili and Oromo (Oromifan). For these African languages the only change will be costuming the OS messages.  however, for other African languages such as Amharic, Dinka, Nuer and several others this problem will be huge. Since these languages are based on non-Latin and partial Latin characters sets, most Embedded and RTOS  operating systems will not support them.

At this point there is a partial support for some of the African language in the embedded world and nothing for others. I think this is true for other non- Latin character set languages.



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