Localisation issues in home directory folders (xdg-user-dirs)

In new distributions such as Ubuntu 7.10 there is now support for folder names of personal data in your local language. What this means is that ~/Desktop can now be called ~/Επιφάνεια εργασίας. You also get a few more default folders, including ~/Music, ~/Documents, ~/Pictures and so on.

This functionality of localised home folders has become available thanks to a new FreeDesktop standard, XDG-USER-DIRS. xdg-user-dirs can be localised, and the current localisations are available at xdg-user-dirs/po.

A potential issue arises when a user logs in with different locales; how does the system switch between the localised versions of the folder names? For GNOME there is a migration tool; as soon as you login into your account with a different locale, the system will prompt whether you wish to switch the names from one language to another. This is available through the xdg-user-dirs-gtk application.

Another issue is with users who use the command line quite often; switching between two languages (for those languages that use a script other than latin) tends to become cumbersome, especially if you have not setup your shell for intelligent completion. In addition, when you connect remotely using SSH, you may not be able to type in the local language at the initial computer which would make work very annoying.

Furthermore, there have been reports with KDE applications not working; if someone can bug report it and post the link it would be great. The impression I got was that some installations of KDE did not read off the filesystem in UTF-8 but in a legacy 8-bit encoding. This requires further investigation.

Moreover, OpenOffice.org requires some integration work to follow the xdg-user-dirs standard; apparently it has its own option as to which folder it will save into any newly created files. I believe this will be resolved in the near future.

Now, if we just installed Ubuntu 7.10 or Fedora 8, and we got, by default, localised subfolders in our home directory (which we may not prefer), what can we do to revert to non-localised folders?

The lazy way is to logout, choose an English locale as the default locale for the system and log in. You will be presented with the xdg-user-dirs-gtk migration tool (shown above) that will give you the option to switch to English folder names for those personal folders.

Clarification: It is implied for this workaround (logout and login thing), you then log out again, set the language to the localised one (i.e. Greek) and log in. This time, when the system asks to rename the personal folders, you simply answer no, and you end up with a localised desktop but personal folders in English. Mission really accomplished.

If you are of the tinkering type, the files to change manually are

$ cat ~/.config/user-dirs.locale

el_GR

$

and

$ cat ~/.config/user-dirs.dirs

# This file is written by xdg-user-dirs-update
# If you want to change or add directories, just edit the line you’re
# interested in. All local changes will be retained on the next run
# Format is XDG_xxx_DIR=”$HOME/yyy”, where yyy is a shell-escaped
# homedir-relative path, or XDG_xxx_DIR=”/yyy”, where /yyy is an
# absolute path. No other format is supported.
#
XDG_DESKTOP_DIR=”$HOME/Επιφάνεια εργασίας”
XDG_DOWNLOAD_DIR=”$HOME/Επιφάνεια εργασίας”
XDG_TEMPLATES_DIR=”$HOME/Πρότυπα”
XDG_PUBLICSHARE_DIR=”$HOME/δημόσιο”
XDG_DOCUMENTS_DIR=”$HOME/Έγγραφα”
XDG_MUSIC_DIR=”$HOME/Μουσική”
XDG_PICTURES_DIR=”$HOME/Εικόνες”
XDG_VIDEOS_DIR=”$HOME/Βίντεο”

Personally I believe that having localised names appear under the home folder is good for the majority of users, as they will be able to match what is shown in Locations with the actual names on the filesystem.

There will be cases that software has to be updated and bugs fixed (such as in backup tools). As we proceed with more advanced internationalisation/localisation support in Linux, it is desirable to follow forward, and fix problematic software.

However, if enough popular support arises with clear arguments (am referring to Greek-speaking users and a current discussion) for default folder names in the English languages, we could follow the popular demand.

Also see the relevant blog post New Dirs in Gutsy: Documents, Music, Pictures, Blah, Blah by Moving to Freedom.

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