The Galician cultural non-profit Proxecto Trasno is challenging the government's support for a proprietary spell checker that can only be used in a single proprietary office suite. The NGO's handful of volunteers, including linguists and researchers, are adding Galician spelling capabilities to Hunspell, a well-known open source spell checker.
Late last month, the NGO published a new version of its Galician hunspell variant. The release, nicknamed 'Padre Sobreira', can be used LibreOffice and OpenOffice. It can also be combined with open source browsers Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and will work with Mozilla's email client Thunderbird.
NGO Proxecto Trasno is creating a community around free software and free culture, connecting volunteers, academics, software firms and public administrations. "We do this for the greater benefit of society", explains Antón Méixome, one of the groups volunteers and an independent researcher "We approached the government to support our cause, but the politicians decided to support the development of a proprietary spell checker, that can only be used in a single proprietary office suite."
The researcher explains that it is difficult to develop a free spelling tool when the linguistic resources are copyrighted by the public administration and other publicly funded institutions, and are made legally available only for the development of proprietary tools. "This does not benefit society, it merely takes public resources to strengthen proprietary software."
Not just orthography
Méixome and his colleagues in the NGO are working to add support for the Galician language to several open source tools. One of them is LibreOffice, a suite of office tools, but the group is also working on a web-service to allow the on-line checking of Galician texts. "This online project is moving slowly, we would welcome a few Python programmers. We could use more programmers in general, actually."
"We recently got in touch with the Languagetool.org, a site that is using free software to offer proofreading of texts in several languages. This is also very interesting project, and we hope to add Galician to its list of languages."
Proxecto Trasno is working on tools that help to automatically extract Galician vocabulary from freely available source. That includes many dictionaries and specialised vocabularies, available on paper and as PDF. "Our tools need to support the migration from the knowledge in these legacy formats into productivity tools such as our spell checker."
The group also aims to attract new users and new developers to free software. "Our spell checker is already as good as the proprietary one, and it will be better soon. I'm sure we will succeed. We may be a small group of unpaid volunteers, but we're tough and stubborn. We're Galicians."
Galicia's government's department responsible for Culture, Education and Universities in 2012 announced it had funded a proprietary spell checker Galgo. The government is making Galgo available for free, but the software can only be used in combination with a ubiquitous office productivity suite, available only on proprietary operating systems. The software is published with a proprietary licence, explicitly forbidding users to make changes, redistribute or run the software in other than the two proprietary systems. The past two weeks, the department did not respond to repeated calls and emails seeking comments.