Claude Henri Pesquet,
Engineering Group Manager,
International Systems Engineering
In the late 1970s, Digital began to ship its first office
products outside the U.S. We realized then that it was no longer
an option to provide users with the ability to input, view, edit,
and print foreign language text; it was instead a necessity, as
well as a passport for Digital into world markets.
The foreign-language requirement came as a shock to the
application developers who had been trained in the late 1960s, at
a time when the U.S. English-speaking market represented more
than 70 percent of the total worldwide information technology
market. Today's reality is quite different. The English-speaking
IT market is below 40 percent, and trends indicate that it will
continue to decline. This is not surprising, because only 8.41
percent of the world's population is native English speaking.
Moreover, each year the commoditization of computers lowers the
entry point for the acquisition of computer products;
consequently the market is expanding to encompass a much broader
socioeconomic community. Further, starting in the 1980s, the
creation of global markets -- for labor, materials, intellectual
talent, financing, and distribution channels -- has forced
businesses to continually reach outside their domestic markets.
Government mandates also have an impact, requiring that products
sold within country boundaries have local-language capability.
Together these factors will increase the demand for and
requirements of international products -- products that will
provide users with linguistic choices.
In recent years, Digital has broadened its market focus to
include not only the scientific/technical, mainly
English-speaking markets, but also commercial markets -- a large
market comprising many languages. To serve these markets well, we
are compelled to adopt a strategy for the internationalization*
of our products.
The strategy, i.e., to develop products that "speak" the local
language, has evolved from a fastidious reengineering of a
product after the fact to an architectural definition that
ensures products are designed originally to meet local-language
requirements. Digital had three goals:
- Reduce development costs.
- Shorten the time to market.
- Increase product quality.
The cost of reengineering products that were designed based upon
a North American paradigm is similar to the cost of maintaining
an application that was designed without regard to future
maintenance. Such costs could meet, if not exceed, the original
product development cost. This was discouraging, because the
markets outside the U.S. were smaller and emerging; producing the
local product compared in cost to producing the original U.S.
product. It became obvious that it was too expensive to
continually rebuild products that sold only to a small market.
Local-language products were late to market when compared with
availability of the same products in the U.S. This presented a
twofold problem. It denied our multinational customers the
capability of installing products and applications simultaneously
in their worldwide operations. Further, product launches,
training, selling, support, and retirement had to be addressed
one country at a time because specific local-language components
were not available simultaneously.
In addressing short-term "surface" issues, we had utilized the
brute force of reengineering to produce one language version at a
time. As a result, we delayed addressing the "deep" quality
issue of originally designing and building into our products the
internationalization features that would allow for easy
adaptation to any language without modification of a product's
A vision on how to address the internationalization of products
was developed by a worldwide team of architects led by Gayn
Winters. The majority of this team was located outside the U.S.
and had been closely involved in Digital's reengineering efforts
for many years. The team's prime motivation was to eliminate the
need for reengineering. The vision they developed is one in which
all Digital integrated systems can process electronic information
containing multiple languages and character sets, and can satisfy
end-user linguistic preferences. An inherent part of this vision
is to make all systems available simultaneously worldwide.
One of the major difficulties in implementing the vision was that
internationalization was not aimed at specific products, rather
it was a pervasive attribute required across systems. For product
development groups trained to develop components, this
represented a difficult change in mind-set. The implementation
also required a huge paradigm shift --
From one character and... To one character and...
One input method Many input methods
One cell Multiple cells
One collation point Several collation points
One geometry Many geometries
"Frozen" alphabet User-defined characters
The paradigm shift led to a redefinition of the elements to be
incorporated in the basic design of new products. The strategy
from a product perspective was to start with the base system
(CPU, peripherals, network, and operating system), and then move
to the application side. From an engineering-resource
perspective, we would start with parallel internationalization
development, and then inject internationalization expertise into
the original product development group. The strategy from a
process perspective was to customize code for specific countries,
and then roll back the country-specific code into the original
product code base and continue future development from this
unique code base. The implementation has resulted in major
achievements, for example, the simultaneous shipment of products
to which this approach was applied.
To illustrate our progress, the latest version of Rdb (relational
database application) was developed with the injection of
internationalization expertise. The approach resulted in one
common code base and achieved worldwide simultaneous shipment.
Many challenges remain. Standards have to be defined and
implemented in areas such as naming conventions, user profiles,
and character attributes. Emerging technologies such as
object-oriented software and multimedia need to be addressed. And
real-time multilinguality (the simultaneous translation from one
language to another) must be tackled.
This issue of the Journal provides a broad sampling
of our product internationalization efforts -- from the concept of
cultural differences to the specific internationalization of our
Rdb product. The papers herein represent only a few of the
hundreds of projects dedicated to the internationalization of
* The term internationalization as it is used within the
context of this Journal includes both the technologies and
the processes applied to enable a product to meet the need
of any local-language market without requiring modification
of the base functionality of the product.