Microsoft Fails At Localization, But Who Doesn’t?

Like most everyone else, Microsoft has run into problems with localizing its Web site from English to Polish.  For example, Engadget finds an instance where someone altered, badly, a stock photo instead of getting a new one.

Poking around the site, I found a couple additional flaws.

For example, the mouseover images on several of the menu items are sized incorrectly in Firefox:

Someone needs to feed and water that mouseover image so it will grow.
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Here’s a broken link in the footer:

The link goes to the wrong place.
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As you can see, the site can’t find anything remotely related to the link:

The toolbar, you say?  What a notion!
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The Search function has some problems handling the Polish alphabet:

Looks like Microsoft needs a language pack
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I forget how I got here, but here’s the Help and Support section only partially skinned for Polish:

It's almost in Polish
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No doubt, you could find more examples of your own at the Polish site or many other sites.  You know why?  Because localization is hard.  Especially for elaborate sites.

Unfortunately, the localization is often treated as an afterthought, but as far as I am concerned, testing a localized Web site or application is like testing a whole new application.  You have to check, for example, all links, all alt/title text, all meta tags, and all graphics to make sure they’re localized or working correctly.

Additionally, you have to worry about the quality of the translation.  It’s best to have someone bilingual on staff; for example, I can kind of muddle through the Spanish translation and see if anything’s crazy wrong (although slang and idiom are problematic).  In most cases, your organization will outsource the translation.  If I had my druthers, I would have one company handle the translation and then have another company verify the translation.  Regardless, you ought to have a copy of the translated terms, particularly the repeated things like link text and button text and make sure they’re applied as far as possible.  Don’t forget the validation and error messages need to be tested, too, but many of these are not completely in English to start with.

Another danger within localization in a massive site with links to various subdomains and whatnot is watching your transitions between languages.  If you’re pouring unlocalized content into a localized template or vice versa, you need to handle it in a way that doesn’t build a Web Page of Babel.  Microsoft doesn’t handle this so well, as it hasn’t localized all support pages and probably not the knowledge base.  If nothing else, the page should include a disclaimer that some results and pages are in English.

Unfortunately, your project managers probably won’t give you the multiples of time required to test each Web site as an independent entity.  That’s a shame, and frankly, it not only does not serve the other-languaged user, but it makes the site look silly and amateurish.

Me, I’m personally glad that I haven’t had to deal with more localization than I have.  Because it’s a bear.

2 Responses to “Microsoft Fails At Localization, But Who Doesn’t?”

  1. strazzerj Says:

    “Me, I’m personally glad that I haven’t had to deal with more localization than I have. Because it’s a bear.”

    Or, perhaps un oso.

    😉

  2. The Director Says:

    No es un osito, señor.


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