Starting with version 0.9.1-beta.2 When supports the standard localization paradigm for Linux software, via gettext and its companion functions. This means that all translation work can be done with the usual tools available on Linux, that is:

  • xgettext (for the Python source) and intltool-extract (for the Glade UI files)
  • msginit, msgmerge and msgfmt

This should allow for easier translation of the software. In fact I provide the Italian localization (it’s the easiest one for me): help is obviously welcome and really appreciated for other ones.

I can provide some simple instructions for volunteers that would like to help translate When in other languages: I’ve already seen some activity in this sense, and very quickly after the first public announcement. I’m really glad of it, because it helps When become more complete and usable.

Think of the following instructions more as a recipe than as an official method to carry the translation tasks.

Template Generation


Normally, to translate the applet, a translator only needs access to the most recent message template (which is po/messages.pot); however these instructions also try to show how to generate such template in case some text in the source has changed, for example while fixing a bug.

Basically the necessary tools are:

  • intltool-extract to retrieve text from the UI files
  • xgettext to extract text from the main applet source.

When in the source tree base, the following commands can be used to generate the template without cluttering the rest of the source tree:

$ mkdir .temp
$ for x in share/when-command/*.glade ; do
>   intltool-extract --type=gettext/glade $x
>   mv -f $x.h .temp
> done
$ xgettext -k_ -kN_ -o po/messages.pot -D share/when-command -D .temp -f po/translate.list

After template generation, which is stored in po/messages.pot, the .temp directory can be safely deleted. If po/messages.pot already exists and is up to date, this step can be skipped.

Create and Update Translations

To create a translation, one should be in a localized environment:

$ cd po
$ export LANG=it_IT
$ msginit --locale=it_IT --input=po/messages.pot --output=po/it.po

where it_IT is used as an example and should be changed for other locales. For all po/*.po files (in this case it.po is created), the following command can be used to create an updated file without losing existing work:

$ msgmerge -U po/it.po po/messages.pot

where it.po should be changed according to locale to translate. The generated or updated .po file has to be modified by adding or updating the translation, and there are at least two options for it:

  • use a standard text editor (the applet source and string set is small enough to allow it)
  • use a dedicated tool like poedit.

After editing the portable object, it must be compiled and moved to the appropriate directory for proper installation, as shown below.

Create the Object File

When the .po file has been edited appropriately, the following commands create a compiled localization file in a subtree of share/locale that is ready for packaging and distribution:

$ mkdir -p share/locale/it/LC_MESSAGES
$ msgfmt po/it.po -o share/locale/it/LC_MESSAGES/when-command.mo

Also here, it.po and the /it/ part in the folder have to be changed according to the translated locale. In my opinion such command-line based tools should be preferred over other utilities to create the compiled object file, in order to avoid to save files in the wrong places or to possibly pollute a package generated from the repository clone. However, for the editing phase in Step 2 any tool can be used. If poedit is chosen and launched from the base directory of the source tree, it should automatically recognize po as the directory containing translation files: open the one that you would like to edit and you will be presented with a window that allows per-string based translation. [1]

Translation Hints

I have tried to be as consistent as possible when writing UI text and command line output in English. Most of the times I tried to follow these basic directions:

  • I preferred US English over British (although I tend to prefer to speak British)
  • text in dialog box labels follows (or at least should follow, I surely have left something out) title case
  • text in command line output is never capitalized, apart from the preamble and notes for the --help switch output, and the applet name in the --version output.

These guidelines should also help to recognize where a string belongs when translating a newly created xx.po file: basically, all (or almost all) sentences that begin with a lower case letter are used in console output, and strings that begin with a capital letter are in almost all cases in the graphical UI. However a translator is strongly advised to give When a try, and explore its English interface (both UI and console, by testing the CLI switches using the --verbose modifier) to be sure of what he is translating. Also, the following command should be issued

$ when-command --help

to locate text that belongs to brief command help. Please note that some words in the help text for the -h switch cannot be modified: they are directly handled by the Python interpreter. Some more detailed instructions follow:

  1. help text for switches should remain below 55 characters
  2. letters inside brackets in help text should not be changed
  3. console output strings should remain below 60 characters, and consider that %s placeholders in some cases might be replaced by quite long strings (like 20 characters or so)
  4. strings in ALL CAPS, numbers and mathematical symbols must NOT be translated
  5. labels in dialog boxes should remain as short as possible, possibly around the same size as the English counterpart
  6. labels that are above or aside text entries (especially the time specifications that appear in the Condition Dialog Box for time based conditions and the DBus parameter specification strings like Value # and Sub #) should not be longer than the English counterpart: use abbreviations if necessary
  7. most of the times, entries in drop down combo boxes (such as condition types) can be somewhat longer than the English counterpart
  8. keep dialog box names short
  9. button labels must follow commonly used translations every time it is possible: for example, the Reload button is present in many applications and the most common translation should be preferred
  10. menu entries that have common counterparts (such as About..., Settings... and Quit) should be translated accordingly
  11. button labels should not force the growth of a button: use a different translation if necessary, or an abbreviation if there is no other option
  12. column titles should not be much longer than the English counterparts, use abbreviations if necessary unless the related column is part of a small set (like two or three columns)
  13. title case is definitely not mandatory: the most comfortable and pleasant casing style should be used for each language
  14. try to use only special characters normally available in the default ASCII code page for the destination language, such as diacritics: if possible avoid other symbols and non-printable characters.


There is one point where the translation might become difficult: the "showing %s box of currently running instance" msgid. Here %s is replaced with a machine-determined nickname for a dialog box. For the About Dialog Box the message would be "showing about box of currently running instance" and the word about cannot be translated. Feel free to use quotes to enclose the nickname in a translation, if you find it necessary.

A personal hint, that I followed when translating from English to Italian, is that when a term in one’s own language is either obsolete, or unusual, or just “funny” in the context, it has not to be necessarily preferred over a colloquially used English counterpart. For example, the word Desktop is commonly used in Italian to refer to a graphical session desktop: I would never translate it to Scrivania – which is the exact translation – in an application like When, because it would sound strange to the least.

[1]Consider that poedit would not show new or untranslated strings by default.