Localization, Localisation

Practical and concise answers to common questions in G11N, I18N and L10N

Which comes first, Globalization or Internationalization?

Posted by Patrick Wheeler on April 8, 2009

In my previous blog entry, I covered the limitations of “Localization” as a generic label to describe what we in the software “Localization” industry continually strive to achieve under the headings of G11n, I18n and L10n, as well as the dangers of this branding in terms of how “Localization” can often be perceived as the sole responsibility of a single “Localization” group or department within an organization.

To add to the confusion, there are two separate and somewhat contradictory models used to describe the relationships between G11n, I18n, and L10n. Microsoft’s model and the model predominately used by the rest of the industry! J Naturally you will also encounter subtle variations to both these models within various organizations.

So before examining G11n, I18n, and L10n in more detail, it’s probably useful to familiarize yourself with the key differences and similarities between these two models.

Microsoft’s Internationalization Model

The graphic below (Fig. 1) represents Microsoft’s “Internationalization” Model.   

Microsoft's Internationalization Model

Microsoft's Internationalization Model

The main thing to be aware of, and where this model is at odds with the model used elsewhere in the industry, is in the terminology. In Microsoft’s model, the terms “Internationalization” and “Globalization” are substituted. “Internationalization” is seen as the overall, high-level process, and “Globalization” is a sub-process that deals with the development of a culture-independent/world-ready application. 

N.B. There is some inconsistency in terminology within Microsoft’s own documentation and content; “Globalization” and “Internationalization” are sometimes interchanged depending on the target audience, author, time of day, weather, etc.

The “Industry Standard” Globalization Model

On the other hand, the rest of the industry typically refers to “Globalization” when talking about the overall process, and “Internationalization” when describing the development of a culture-independent/world-ready application. See the more commonly accepted, “Industry standard” Globalization Model below (Fig. 2). 

The “Industry Standard” Globalization Model

The “Industry Standard” Globalization Model

The irony of this inconsistent terminology won’t be lost on anyone working in Localization. J

At first glance you may assume that Microsoft’s model (Fig.1) provides a more comprehensive description of the whole workflow, as there is more detail provided in the high-level model. This is not strictly the case. Whilst the more commonplace model used by the rest of the industry (Fig. 2) is typically only represented by three neat little Globalization, Internationalization, and Localization boxes, there will of course be more detail under each of these headings, but the level of detail/terminology will once again vary from organization to organization. For example, if we expand the model in Fig. 2 further, we would see something similar to the following workflow (Fig. 3) emerging:

Expanded "Globalization" Model

Expanded "Globalization" Model

In Fig. 3, I have placed “Localizability” and “Customizability” under “Internationalization”. In my opinion, these are just a few of the more significant component parts of Internationalization. If we were to expand the I18n process still further, one would see the addition of other major I18n considerations such as Unicode. 

Resistance is (sometimes) Futile

There is no right or wrong model to adopt or champion within your organization. Essentially both models describe the same overall process. However, it is useful to be aware of both models, especially if you have the misfortune of having to delve into Microsoft Documentation relating to Internationalization or the Globalization Namespace. Similarly, when talking to people from the Microsoft/.Net universe, I’ve found it can be easier to simply give up trying to stick to the more widely accepted G11n model and speak in Microsoft terms. Otherwise it can be rather like trying to convince the Borg there is an alternative to assimilation (I ‘m already sorry for that reference!) and you may find yourself viewed with the same skepticism as zoologist who just suggested polar bears and penguins could peacefully coexist. J Apologies to my ex-Microsoft colleagues, but you know it’s true! J

In my next few posts (and as previously promised!), l will endeavor to work-around the (at times) conflicting terminology and take a look at the commonality in what these process models are seeking to describe under the headings of Globalization, Internationalization, and Localization.


One Response to “Which comes first, Globalization or Internationalization?”

  1. […] – The importance of thinking globally SDL Trados 2007: Quick Guide for the Complete Beginner Which comes first, Globalization or Internationalization? Who’s responsible for Localization in your […]

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