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Practical methods for managing the Windows network deployment of LibreOffice and for managing its user interface language, with emphasis on Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Breton

Author: Mícheál Ó Lochlainn, Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh.

Published 12th July 2014.

Updated 13th January 2015.

Keywords

Irish, Gaelic, Scottish, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Celtic, LibreOffice, localisation, globalisation, translation, internationalisation, language, Microsoft, Windows, Office, OpenOffice.

Introduction

If you don't want to read through the background information and the blurb, just go straight to the how-to.

LibreOffice

LibreOffice is a powerful, free (gratis and libre; beer and speech) office suite, with similar functionality to Microsoft Office. It is a fork of the OpenOffice project and it is managed and developed by The Document Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that has a wider remit to promote open-source document handling software and open standards. The Document Foundation was set up by members of the OpenOffice.org community, who became concerned about developments in that project after it was aquired by Oracle Corporation.

Scope

The how-to part of this article is mainly aimed at techies who know their way around Windows Server, Active Directory, Group Policy, VB Script, Powershell and so on. But for the benefit of non-technical users, who might have an interest in localisation and in the deployment of minority languages to the user interfaces of their computers (the Celtic languages of Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish and Breton especially), I have the whole article fleshed-out with background information, explanations and clarifications. Cherry-pick away.

The article was originally based on version 4.1.6 (stable) of LibreOffice but I have it updated slightly to keep up with changes to the LibreOffice Windows installer. It refers to version 4.2.8 (still) of LibreOffice and version 4.2.8 of the optional offline help pack now. It covers two main aspects of LibreOffice management on Windows machines, in Windows-based network environments:

Installing and maintening LibreOffice

Installing LibreOffice one computer at a time, clicketty-click at the GUI is easy. Any half-competent sysadmin or power user could do it in their sleep and there is no shortage of guides and instructions on the Internet for nervous non-techies who want to learn how to do it for themselves.

On the other hand, automated, centralised network deployment to multiple desktop machines needs a techie at the wheel. Of course, network deployment of software packages is fairly straightforward as sysadmin jobs go and since LibreOffice installers now come wrapped in MSI files, deploying it is easier than ever. There are a couple of things that could catch you though; especially where multi-lingualism has to be managed. This article discusses these problems and suggests some solutions.

LibreOffice user interface language management

LibreOffice is multi-lingual out of the box and changing the user interface language at the GUI is as easy as installation. At time of writing the installer comes pre-loaded with every translation and every dictionary currently provided by the LibreOffice project.

Note: To be clear, this means there is only one LibreOffice installer and this sees after the installation of all supported UI languages. There is a 'need another language?' link on the LibreOffice download page but this is is to do with the offline help pack installer, not the LibreOffice application itself.

When you do a clicketty-click installation of LibreOffice on a Windows computer, the installer has a word with Windows, finds out what operating system localisations are installed and if it has its own translations for those languages it selects them for installation. The person doing the installation can always select more if they want.

After the installation is finished, when each user starts LibreOffice up it has a word of its own with Windows and finds out what their interface language and locale are. If LibreOffice has a translation for the language associated with that locale it switches its UI to suit. The user doesn't have to do a bit to make this happen but if they do want to change the LibreOffice UI language manually all they have to do is drill down through tools / settings / languages and select whatever (available and installed) language they're after.

In well-managed corporate / institutional network environments though, it is common for desktop configurations to be fairly rigidly locked down. This article discusses ways in which desktop lockdown can be applied to LibreOffice and its user interface.

Spell checkers

Deploying and managing LibreOffice's spell check functionality is a biteen outside the scope of this article. Having said that I'll probably add a section on this subject out in the time, since a lot of people would rather walk down Patrick Street in their underware at two o'clock on a Saturday evening than use a word processor without a spell checker. (Although if standard orthographies are that important to them they could always lern to spel.) And that's when they're working in English, never mind a minority language.

But there's rakes of information about LibreOffice already

Yes there is and a lot of it's very good. But one of the things that prompted me to write this article was the scarcity of existing, up-to-date documentation about Windows network deployment, MSI installer file manipulation and user interface language management, and the fact that what little there is tends to be out of date. For example:

Of course, software development and technical writing can only go as far and as fast as time and manpower allow and it is a safe bet that The Document Foundation hasn't a magic, bottom-less cash well in the garden so this is not meant in any way as a criticism. Less importantly, and still not as a criticism, some of the English language documentation (The Document Foundation's and others') is clearly written by non-native speakers doing their best to articulate complicated and abstract technical concepts but without the benefit of an L1 copy-editor. As a result, it can sometimes be difficult to understand.

This article is based on my own experiments with the LibreOffice and Help Pack MSI installers, on information given in official Document Foundation documentation, and on one or two other sources. Hopefully, it throws a little up-to-date light on areas that don't seem to have been well-documented in the past.

OpenOffice

I haven't done any work at all with OpenOffice localisation, nor have I tested any of the methods presented in this article on it. But LibreOffice contains so much OpenOffice DNA I wouldn't be surprised if all of these techniques will either work just fine with OpenOffice or only need minor adjustment to get them going.

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