October 10th, 2005

Getting Windows XP to speak multiple languages

Until recently, Windows XP could only handle one language per installation. This is fine if your household only uses one language, but it gets to be a hassle for those where multiple languages are commonly used. To further aggravate the situation, it's hard and expensive to get, for example, an English language Windows XP in Taiwan or a Chinese Traditional language Windows XP in the US. And even if you did manage to get versions of the languages you need, you'd have to set up a cumbersome multi-boot system to be able to use both on the same computer.

Other OSes, such as MacOS, Solaris, and many Linux distributions have been localized with multiple languages, and allow a single computer to offer a localized login with different languages for each user account. That way you could set up one account for English, and the other account with Chinese Traditional, and then everyone could get all the menus in their preferred language without all the hassle.

This capability is now finally becoming available for Windows XP. Microsoft has designed a four disk package called the Multilingual User Interface (MUI) which allows you to add on a couple of dozen different localized language packs to your Windows XP system, including most of the world's major languages.

Until recently, the MUI was only available to corporate users with Volume Licensing contracts. Now it is available to OEM system builders as well. Although OEM versions of XP are supposed to only be sold with a new PC, it is possible to buy them alone through some dealers. The MUI is not yet available as a separate product, so you have to shell out for another license of Windows XP. The product number for XP PRO SP2 OEM w/ MUI in the US is E85-04057 and should cost US$150-160 by mail order.

I recently bought a copy of this, and installed the Chinese Traditional package on my desktop system. After installing it, I went into the Control Panel and clicked on Regional and Languages Settings. Under the Languages tab was a new menu for choosing the language for the account. I left my own account with English, and set the Guest account that my family uses to Chinese Traditional. After logging out and logging back in, all the menus in the Guest account were now in Chinese. This will certainly make it easier for them to use my computer.

I know a few of your who read this journal are either multilingual yourselves or are in a multilingual household. I highly recommend getting a copy of the MUI for your computer.