Teaching Windows a Foreign Language

This is a technical post for the non-technically minded.
It started this morning with a knock on the door from a German lady. She and her husband had just been to the supermarket here in Catania, Sicily and bought a new netbook – just like the one they already owned.
They had asked the guy in customers services wether it could have its language changed from Italian to German. “No problem!” said the guy.

The netbook has Windows 7 Starter on it.

The first problem for the new owner was that he didn’t have enough Italian to understand how to ask it to change its Mother tongue. So a neighbouring Dane had suggested that the English gent would be worth asking!

Now I haven’t progressed beyond Vista yet and my mind is still pining for XP. My Italian is only slightly better than my German. I can just about manage to eat with my rudimentary Italian and would starve in Germany without the aid of others less linguistically challenged. So looking at the new netbook left me not much better informed than the frustrated owner.

Having spent a while looking at the Microsoft website and others, I learned that the Starter version is a cut down version of the real operating system. I had thought that that meant some of the new features of Windows 7 wouldn’t be available in the “Starter” version that tends to be pre-installed on new netbooks.

I hadn’t appreciated that it meant that they had removed a lot of the functionality that was present in older iterations of the product. It is a bit like buying a new model of car where the tyres are no longer supplied as standard – or did Mercedes already cover that ground? In this case, you only get one language and that will be the one for the country where it is being sold. No, of course no-one ever buys a netbook whilst in some other country than their own. It would be sort of rude, wouldn’t it?

The Microsoft website is quite enthusiastic about the fact that their downloadable language files are available for free and in 95 languages as long as you don’t want Chinese. Seems there is a political issue with offering Chinese. Not at all sure what since you can get it from lots of other sites and it almost certainly has been assembled at Microsoft. When, however you go to the download page for your copy of politically safe German, there it is. The file with a warning sign saying that Mr Gates’ team have ensured that it won’t work unless you have bought the Ultimate or Enterprise version of Windows 7.

Cost of Netbook: €200.
Cost of upgrade operating system so that it stops talking in a foreign language and lets you use it: €180.
I think my German friend was right to be a little disappointed with his purchase.

I know that I have a character flaw that causes me to get unreasonably upset when I think people have been ripped off. More so than when I get ripped off! Neither of us really fancied the discussion with the supermarket management in a language neither of us could really speak.

At this point, I was so incensed that I would have been willing to indulge in piracy against Microsoft without a second thought. Actually, I had the XP installation disks from a laptop that had long since died on me so I felt entirely righteous about offering to put XP on the machine in place of Windows 7 and he clearly thought that would be an even better solution. We discussed the effect on his warranty and agreed that this wos the way to go. I took the machine away to do the deed.

An hour or so later, I had a better idea. If I were to partition the 250Gb hard disk and make it a dual boot machine, maybe the warranty would still be valid. Simples.

I soon had a clean formatted 108Mb E: drive ready to take XP. I had dusted off my external USB CD/DVD drive and satisfied myself that I had set the netbook so it would boot from the CD in preference to the hard disk.

OK. I am a dinasaur. My main machine these days is a quad processor with 8Gb of Ram but I still run ancient DOS software like FoxPro and Power Basic in DosBox so it shouldn’t be any surprise that I still have a bootable CD with DOS 6.2 on it. That is my trusty testbed. It booted the machine up just fine and quickly. It is wonderful to see the speed of the antedeluvial software running on a wizz-bang modern PC but that is another story.

I fetched my XP CD and tried the boot. Oh dear, it couldn’t see a hard disk at all. A little head scratching and I realised that SATA drives weren’t around when they devised XP so it wasn’t really surprising. But, hey, there is a facility in XP installer for supplying drivers for storage devices it doesn’t know about. There is the solution.

Wrong again! XP installer is absolutely convinced that your machine has a floppy disk drive A: on it and wants that to be where the drivers are. I tried spoofing it into thinking that a pen disk was the floppy. No. Couldn’t evev assign the CD as A: because it wants the A-drive before it lets you have access to DOS.

At this point I was ready to give up and go and buy a floppy disk! Having recently put DosBox on my machine, to have a floppy disk drive would really have made it look like an original IBM 8086… Fortunately, it was getting on to 10pm so I couldn’t go to the local Media World and had to try another route.

Back to Google and another search brought salvation with a bit more information about Vista and Windows 7. It seems that they have just restricted the system to a single language in the registry. Change the registry entry and it will allow you to add another language. The problem then is that whenever Windows does an update, it puts the registry back where it was and you lose your second language. The answer to this one might be just to stop it doing the updates but that would seem an unfortunate way to go. Then I came across a free bit of software called Vistalizator (www.vistalizator.com).

Although this little gem was written for Vista, they have a Windows 7 version. It makes the change to the registry and installs the second language for you right up to the point where you select the new language as the primary one.
You do have to download the MUI Language file from Microsoft – a snip at102Mb. However, Vistalizator also stops the update from changing the registry back again. But even if it didn’t, it is a very easy matter to re-run the program to set it back again.

Of course, I then had a netbook in German which I didn’t understand any more than I had the Italian but its owner was very happy with it.

At last I have the answer to the language problem which is useful for the next time when it might be Japanese to Swahili knowing my luck! All I need to find now is how to get Windows & to allow me to set a workgroup name for the LAN. Why, oh why, does Microsoft think we will learn to love them if they persist with these silly games?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Teaching Windows a Foreign Language

  1. Bill W

    Ho-Ho I really liked that story.

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