en Inglés and in Spanish (a reason to prefer Linux over Windows?)

About twenty 4 to 6 year-old computers were recently donated to Red Arco Iris (en Inglés, Rainbow Network). The disk drives had been reformatted to remove prior content, presumably both for licensing integrity and privacy. Now the question is how to transport/transform them into productive machines in the Network offices in Nicaragua. Likely transportation is from Springfield to Austin in a truck, and then from Austin to Managua in a shipping container.

Inertia would lead to sending the computers, without software, to Nicaragua. Then Spanish packagings of Windows, Office, et al would need to be installed with Spanish settings.


  • Windows (at least the U.S. packagings, and, I assume packagings for other countries) normally requires one to set the language (and date formats, etc.) at installation time and doesn’t seem to offer options to change the language after install. (I assume that Office follows the Windows install time settings, but I don’t really know.)
  • It would be nicer to do all (almost all) of the computer preparation in the U.S. before shipment, relieving the Nicaragua staff of that burden. But someone would likely have to be fluent in Spanish to handle this well.
  • It would also be nice to be able to have the machines friendly to both those whose first language is English and those whose first language is Spanish. If nothing else, those of us with “limited fluency” (hardly any) in Spanish might do a better job of software setup, and might improve our Spanish, if the machines “spoke” both languages. 
  • Such multi-lingual capability has been standard on mainframes, mini-computers and UNIX machines for decades. With the VMS ancestry of Windows NT (and now XP, Vista, and Windows 7), it might seem that multi-lingual capabilities in Windows might be taken for granted without thinking. But no!

Apparently, Microsoft thinks that Multilingual User Interface should be an option only available with the higher priced Windows versions, e.g., Vista Enterprise and Vista Ultimate. It is expected that lower priced versions are to be  “localized” to Spanish or another languages when initially installed. 

(As expected from the UNIX precedents) with Linux, switching a system from English to Spanish is simply a matter of selecting the desired language in the  System->Administration->Language menu in the GNOME GUI. Allowing one user to use English while another uses Spanish is simply a matter of setting the LANG environment variable, e.g., to “en_US.UTF-8” or “es_NI.UTF-8”, respectively. (With OS X, things are comparably simple, by selecting the System Preferences->International menu.)

After these simple settings, applications, e.g., Firefox, OpenOffice, etc. act appropriately according to the system setting/environment variable.

The Nicaragua staff seems receptive, if not eager, to try Linux instead of Windows, so I think at least some of the donated machines will be deployed with Linux.

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