Date Tags english

Last week I received an invitation to join the LXDE project, “an extremely faster, performing and energy saving desktop environment maintained by an international community of developers”, to collaborate and help organize their translation effort. As I have maintained the Brazilian Portuguese translation for Openbox, one of the components that make up LXDE, and am very much involved with the translation of GNOME, KDE, XFCE, and other modules, I felt very compelled to accept the invitation.

One of the very first questions posed to the translation guys was which tool/platform to use in order to empower collaborators and provide an easy way to organize and maintain the translation effort. A poll was set up giving people 3 choices of platforms to vote on:

The initial result showed that Transifex was the favorite choice by the majority, who also opted to have it hosted locally instead of taking advantage of the instance already setup by the Fedora project. Those of you who have followed my work from afar may be surprised to know that I also voted for that same option, going as far as pointing out that Launchpad’s Rosetta should not be considered for this enterprise. Those of you who have followed my work more closely probably know that through the years I have reduced my use of Rosetta to zero, choosing to do my translations directly with the upstream projects instead.

I have been asked about my reasons for not supporting the same tool that helped me get started in the open source world, most of which were replied to via personal emails. I have also spoken to some close friends about this same topic, who have encouraged me to write a blog post exposing my position and maybe allow more people to learn how strongly I feel against the use of Rosetta for existing open source projects.


First of all, I want to make sure a few things are very clear so to avoid confusion of my intentions. For a long time Rosetta was my tool of choice and the one I recommended to anyone wanting to join the translation hordes. The reason?

  • It was dead easy to use!
  • It bridged the (huge) gap between regular users and open source projects!
  • Being web based meant anyone could contribute from anywhere, using any OS, so long as you had internet connection (yeah, you could also download a PO file and work offline)!

For quite a while I was probably one of the most active Rosetta users (at least that is what I was told by someone really close to Rosetta) out there and a huge supporter. I still believe that the 3 points above are very much valid today. Rosetta has a lot of potential and I whole heartily believe that its developers are trying really hard to tighten it up.

Now that I have added my disclaimer, let me explain what caused me to go from being a great supporter to someone who doesn’t recommend it for translating existing open source projects.

Seeing the tree but not the forest

A common work flow for someone using Rosetta is to search for modules that need some work done (either missing translations or messages that need to be reviewed) and then filter it to display only those messages that need to be worked on. Great, right? Not quite! What if you were translating the fictitious application “Mouse Trap”, a board game where you move a cute little mouse through a maze to get to a pile of cheese, and asked Rosetta to only display messages that had yet to be translated?

Let’s just say that after filtering for the untranslated messages, you are then presented with the string “Mouse”.  Since the context here is a board game with a little mouse, one could fairly easy be tempted to translate mouse as the equivalent word in your language that describes an actual mouse, a rodent. That was easy and once you commit your work you’ll have a 100% translated game. However, what if that specific message was located in the configuration dialog for this game where the user can select how to control the mouse through the maze? Since we’ve specifically filtered for untranslated messages only, we missed the previous message that provided some useful messages “Please select how to control the character:" and "Keyboard”, which were already translated. If you speak Brazilian Portuguese you’d probably be confused with the choices to control the game via a keyboard or an actual (the rodent) mouse, as there are 2 different words to differentiate between the animal from the pointing device.

Obviously this is not a problem with Rosetta per se, as I believe that in order to keep quality translations a team should always look at the whole picture before committing their work. Unfortunately to Rosetta, this feature has most definitely generated a lot of issues similar to the one I’ve attempted to describe above. Before someone starts using it to contribute with translations, instructions about the team’s work flow and processes should be something that a new contributor gets as part of their “welcome” package.


Through the years it became apparent to me that there was a lot of redundancy happening with the work being done by the translation teams. Since most open source projects have their own translation teams, we often had situations where (for instance) GNOME and Ubuntu Brazilian Portuguese teams would work translating the same piece of software in parallel. Because the GNOME team (from now on called upstream) already had their own vocabulary and process in place, it was trivial for someone to overwrite their work in Rosetta, something that understandably ticked off many upstream translators. The Ubuntu Brazilian team got such a bad rap for this that we would be immediately spurned from IRC channels, or mailing lists related to upstream projects. Heck, I was even called names by the Brazilian KDE / Latin America representative (or whatever that asshole’s “title” is) just for introducing my self and trying to start a collaborative relationship so to avoid redundancy.

Swimming against the flow

The real problem in my opinion, and the reason why I believe Rosetta is flawed from design, is that the work done by anyone using Rosetta will only benefit Ubuntu and its derivatives. There is no two-way traffic happening as far as translations goes, and none of the many thousands (yes, thousands) of strings that I’ve translated during the many hundreds of hours I spent translating with Rosetta ever made its way back up to upstream, where other distributions could also use them.

Everyone who’s worked with open source projects know that if you’re going to make use of it, the least you can do is send any, if not all, improvements made back to the source. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your patch/work will be taken or incorporated but it is something a good citizen from the open source world should do, specially a project like Ubuntu that is so popular among the generic GNU/Linux user base!

What to do then?

I have many times attempted to provide more feedback and action plans to improve these areas in Rosetta, even presenting during this year’s FOSSCamp at Boston in February to a small group including Mark Shuttleworth and Troy Unraurepresenting the KDE project. My last attempt was when I wrote this blueprint trying to detail a possible new translation workflow whereby quality wouldn’t be sacrificed in favor of quantity and contributions done via Rosetta would start to make their way back to the upstream projects. Unfortunately nothing has ever come out of my attempts, which after a while became less frequent from my part. I understand that the Rosetta team is fairly shorthanded with the huge list of issues and features pilling up on their queue, so it is not their fault that some of the massive features can’t get implemented in the short term. But as I have talked to many people during these last few months about this same topic, I dare to ask:

Could the reason why Rosetta is still doing things backwards be more aligned with how much return these features could fetch Canonical from enterprise users?


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