Tiree youth beat Microsoft to Gaelic spellchecker

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Tiree youth beat Microsoft to Gaelic spellchecker

Message par drouizig » jeu. avr. 19, 2007 3:21 pm


IT SEEMS an unequal struggle, with the world's largest and most celebrated software company pitted against the school pupils of a tiny and remote Scottish island.

However, in this David and Goliath battle, it was the youngsters of Tiree High School who triumphed over the giants of Microsoft.
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Seven sixth-year pupils at Tiree High have won acclaim for developing the world's first Gaelic spellchecker, beating the computer giants to the finishing line after an enterprise project lasting just four weeks.

Yesterday, the top brains of Tiree were off school, studying for exams, as their first business venture continued to set tongues, native and otherwise, wagging.

The Gaelic development agency Comann Na Gaidhlig (CNAG) is in early discussions with Microsoft officials in the hope of them developing a spelling and grammar checker for Scottish Gaelic, similar to one being adapted for Irish Gaelic. The project is expected to cost £50,000 over two years.

But the pupils from Tiree have already devised software - as part of a Young Enterprise competition - and are selling it for £18.50.

Thirty of the 50 CDs so far produced have been sold and a new batch will now be pressed to meet demand.

It is the first time in many years that the school, which has a roll of only 53, has had enough sixth-year pupils to even enter the contest.

Ironically, the successful company may have to be wound up next month because of the competition rules.

Michael Holliday, 17, the marketing manager of the students' company Luchag-Ink (luchag is the Gaelic word for mouse), explained what was behind their success.

He said: "We decided to make a Gaelic spellchecker as we realised there was a gap in the market, particularly for schools and universities.

"It took four weeks to develop and it runs like a normal Microsoft document.

"CNAG asked Microsoft if it could do something like this but we have beaten them to it."

The seven pupils, the entire sixth year at Tiree High, where Gaelic is the main language for about half the 750-strong population, took part in the project with one teacher and two advisers.

The spellchecker they devised examines word processing documents for incorrect spelling by comparing the text to a built-in dictionary. If a word is spelled incorrectly it is underlined in red and a list of alternatives are offered.

Michael said: "We wish something like this existed when we were writing essays and folios in Gaelic. It is a shame, but it is nice that others can benefit from our work.

"In a few weeks time, once we have finished our exams, we plan to approach Microsoft to see if they would be interested in the spellchecker. But whatever happens, we have made a good start here."

Stuart Maclean, a computer studies teacher at the school, said: "We became aware that CNAG was looking for a similar thing only last week. It has been very successful and it will be a very hard act to follow. But the idea behind the Young Enterprise contest is that pupils set up a company, devise a product, market it and then wind the whole thing up by the end of June. There are other options, but at the moment we will have to wait to see what happens."

However, the Luchag-Ink product, which lists 7,350 Gaelic words, will not be used instead of the version being commissioned by CNAG. Its version will have up to 250,000 words - and will also correct errors made in Gaelic grammar.

Donald Martin, the chief executive of CNAG, suggested it was unrealistic to make direct comparisons between a group of schoolchildren and Bill Gates and his team.

"We discovered that Microsoft were pretty well advanced in developing a spellchecker for Irish Gaelic and thought it would be a good idea to develop a similar project for Scots Gaelic as much of the technical work has already been done," he said.

"We have not yet made a formal approach to Microsoft at a high level, although we have talked to people in Dublin who are involved in the Irish project and applications have been made to a number of organisations for funding.

"We have seen the spellchecker produced by the Tiree pupils. It is a Young Enterprise project and has to be viewed in that context.

"They have done extremely well and it will be useful and is a very welcome development, but it's obviously not something that is going to take the place of a more comprehensive spellchecker that we would be involved in.

"It does not extend to anything like the number of words we are trying to achieve.

"We will also be using ours in a technical context, for local authorities, environmental health departments, architects et cetera," he added.

How the two compare

Microsoft, started by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in 1975 in an Albuquerque living room, is now the world's largest software company.

Mr Gates, with a personal fortune estimated at £26.9 billion, is the second richest man in the world, according to the Sunday Times Rich List for 2003.

In 1998, Microsoft became the first company after General Electric to exceed a market capitalisation of $200 billion.

It represents approximately 60 per cent of the value of the international software industry and employs over 30,000 people worldwide.

THE island of Tiree is part of the Inner Hebrides, with Coll, its nearest neighbour, and Mull obscuring it from mainland Scotland. It has been described as a crofting community almost suspended in a time-warp.

Its 750-strong population, depends on ferries for all supplies from the mainland. There are 53 pupils at the high school and only one daily flight by Loganair, which brings post, visitors and daily newspapers on an 18-seater Twin Otter plane.

There is said to be nowhere windier in the UK. A plot of land to build your own home costs about £15,000.

• You can order the Gaelic spellchecker from Luchag-Ink ( http://www.luchag-ink.org/ )