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.
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
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:
- Make Snake - the snake game
- Terminal Quest - teach the use of the terminal
- Kano Overworld - the application behind the Story Mode
For these projects I uploaded the existing translation files I could find on the Internet and started contributing French translations.
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
git clone email@example.com:KanoComputing/make-snake.git
Download the .po file, for example for
and copy it to the
po directory as
fr.po. The file name has to match the
language code. Finally run
make from the
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 firstname.lastname@example.org:KanoComputing/terminal-quest.git
# Add the translated .po file to the po directory
Then copy the resulting
/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
sudo apt-get install zip
cp -r res/locales/en_US/ res/locales/fr_FR/
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:
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?