What is Kano?

Kano is a small educational Linux distribution to teach computers to kids. Kano is great: if you have kids, definitely check it out.

Kano dashboard

It runs on a cheap Raspberry Pi, the system is free. It’s perfect. Or almost… It’s only available in English or Spanish and the company behind Kano, despite a few promises in that sense, hasn’t yet made it available to other languages.

However because Kano is Open Source, meaning you can modify it to your liking, we do not rely on them to provide us with localized builds to enjoy the distro in another language. With a few tweaks, you can do it yourself. Here is how.

Make the system available in your language

Turn on your Kano computer and make sure it has network connectivity. Go to Advanced and enable SSH. Then you can connect to it via SSH and change the language of the system:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure locales

Select which locales you want to enable. For instance for French, I’m enabling fr_FR.UTF-8. It’s usually a good idea to always build en_US.UTF-8. On the next screen you’ll be able to select which locale will be the default one.

To make your change take effect, log out and log in again. If you don’t know what that means, simply restart your Kano computer.

Now that you’re back in Kano you’ll notice that the interface is… still in English. What happened? Didn’t we just changed the system locales? Yes we did. In fact if you open an application such as the file browser or the calculator, you’ll see it applied your language preference. These applications are originated from the wider Open Source community and include translation files, contrary to the Kano developed applications.

We need to create those files. This is where you can help.

Translating Kano applications

Translating software can be fun and doesn’t require any particular technical knowledge. All the sentences or words from the original software are extracted into a file that serves as a template for new translation files.

There are several services that allow translating files online. Transifex, Pootle, and Zanata are among the most well known.

I took the liberty to upload the Kano template files to Zanata because it is free and offers a public instance. So far, I’ve created translation projects for:

For these projects I uploaded the existing translation files I could find on the Internet and started contributing French translations.

Create yourself an account, join the projects, and start translating.

Apply the changes

This is where it gets more complex. In an ideal world, the translation files are included with the software and shipped with the next release. In this case however, we’ll have to upload the files to the Kano computer. This location is different for each soft.

For Make Snake

Clone the make-snake repository:

git clone git@github.com:KanoComputing/make-snake.git

Download the .po file, for example for French, and copy it to the po directory as fr.po. The file name has to match the language code. Finally run make from the po directory:

cd po

Copy the resulting locale/fr/LC_MESSAGES/make-snake.mo file to /usr/share/locale/fr/LC_MESSAGES/make-snake.mo on the Kano computer.

For Terminal Quest

For Terminal Quest, you’ll follow the same process:

git clone git@github.com:KanoComputing/terminal-quest.git
# Add the translated .po file to the po directory
cd po

Then copy the resulting terminal-quest.mo to /usr/share/locale/YOUR_LOCAL/LC_MESSAGES/ on the Kano computer.

For Story Mode

Kano-overworld is a different beast. It’s a LÖVE application built using the lua programming language. The translation template comes from the kano-overworld-i18n-orig package, but I have yet to figure a way to turn the translated .po files back into a lua dict that the application expects. So what I did instead was to copy the original language resource and edit it in place.

The “Story Mode” files live in /usr/share/kano-overworld/build/kanoOverworld.love. It’s simply a zip archive.

sudo apt-get install zip
mkdir kano-overworld
cd kano-overworld
unzip /usr/share/kano-overworld/build/kanoOverworld.love
cp -r res/locales/en_US/ res/locales/fr_FR/
vi res/locales/fr_FR/lang.lua

Then you can update the resources with:

zip -9 -r /usr/share/kano-overworld/build/kanoOverworld.love res/

Here is how it looks in French:

Kano Story Mode in French

And now what?

This is only the beginning. I’m hoping that people will jump on board and help translate the Kano applications in their languages.

I’ll certainly push scripts to make this whole experience less hacky and make is easier to update the distribution with the latest translations.

It’s a bit unfortunate the Kano developers don’t take i18n too seriously. I understand they have business imperative and may not want to deal with support for non-English users but that shouldn’t prevent them from sharing the tools they use internally and make it easier for the community to provide translation files.

Perhaps one day Kano – the company – will integrate these language files in their projects and finally open Kano – the distribution – to more users?