Multilingual SharePoint

In Canada, extranet sites are often provided in both of our distinct national languages -- en-ca (English-Canadian) and en-nf (English-Newfoundland). Occasionally, government sites are also presented in the less entertaining fr-ca (Québécois).

SharePoint Products and Technologies simply aren't multi-lingual, and the language packs force you to choose between available languages for a given site, rather than provide two views of the same content. There's a whitepaper on the topic, and it provides some helpful tips like segmenting users into audiences based on preferred language, but these aren't ideal solutions --  some elements aren't translated, and the administration pages remain in the language first installed.

In the Office 12 timeframe (2006 H2) SharePoint will finally make us of ASP.NET's localization features and provide satellite assemblies to support multiple languages. That's an appropriate solution, but what to do until then?

PointFire provides an option for WSS. IceFire also announced a solution for SPS in "Fall 2005" though at the rate we're running out of leaves on trees I don't know whether it will happen. PointFire installs a custom site definition which provides English and Canadian-French interfaces to any given WSS site [Note: I yet know whether this replaces or creates an alternative to the default STS site definition. If it replaces STS, it may be broken by the recent WSS Service Pack 2. Another consequence would be creating an "unsupported scenario." To clarify, I'm asking IceFire and will include their answer here].

Based on the demos and screenshots on the site, PointFire is a pretty good solution. It looks like it should. All elements including page navigation, toolbars, and administration pages are appropriately translated. Error pages are not, for example when trying to access content for which which a user is not authorized (e.g. Site Settings in the demo). However making this change would break MS "Supportability" so the company is wisely

For extranets, there is also an option to hide elements from anonymous (unauthenticated) users.

I was confused by the fact that the content in the PointFire demos also switches languages. Looking deeper, they actually allow the user to enter content in both languages, so if you only enter English, then English shows up on the site for both views. Less attractive is that rather than providing two text boxes to enter content (one for each language), they use the same textbox and require the user to delimit text with "~~" markers. For example, a bilingual announcement would be entered as, "~~Laika is under the car.~~Laika est sous l'auto.~~" It's a great feature and for certain it's proper for the user to define the translation. To me the tildes feel like a kludge but if this is a trade-off to remain a MS-supported solution, I'll live with it.

Shortcomings? As mentioned, this is a WSS-only solution, you'll need to take another route for SPS portals. At the moment it seems that the MSN Presence "pawns" are broken on PointFire sites. And finally, I'll always prefer products that display pricing on their website, IceFire does not.

If you need multi-lingual functionality, this appears to be the best canned solution out there. While there are a few issues of concern, none affect security and the solution meets the need for the most important audience: your end-users. The net gain for an average company with experienced SharePoint developers is about four to six weeks of R&D, so depending upon the price you're quoted, PointFire is worth a look.

[Note: Updated based on reply from IceFire which indicates that it is a support scenario.]

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