Localization Professionals Mourn the Demise of Microsoft’s Language Portal

Microsoft Language Portal Demise

Nearly halfway through 2023, the pace of breaking news on language-related AI developments continues to accelerate.

While OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has publicly suggested that the next wave of AI innovation will not come from ever-larger models, the company’s own large language models (LLM) and their ilk continue to inspire speculation about the future of translation. With the proliferation of new use cases, LLMs are making their way into the day-to-day work of users across industries.

For example, in April 2023, workflow automation tool Zapier announced a new integration featuring OpenAI’s Whisper API, which offers automatic speech recognition, transcription, and into-English translation, though performance reportedly varies significantly by language. Observers have praised Whisper’s quick turnaround times — a potential game-changer for competitors in the speech-to-text space.

How eager are language service providers to adopt GPT or similar LLMs? According to Slator’s April 28, 2023 survey, one in 10 LSPs has jumped on board so far, with 11.9% having already integrated an LLM into their translation management system (TMS). 

Although the vast majority (73.8%) of respondents have not yet done so, and the rest (14.3%) are unsure, Slator found that more than 90% of participating LSPs plan to apply LLMs in their business in the future. (The full survey results and a detailed analysis can be found in Slator’s 2023 Language Industry Market Report.)

By Any Other Name

With the ongoing flurry of interest in and adoption of GPT-based technologies and applications, OpenAI has decided to shut down unauthorized usage of its flagship product’s name. 

Since OpenAI introduced GPT in 2020, other AI companies have been using it to develop their own products, often incorporating GPT in the names of their brands. According to the website of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), OpenAI is now enforcing its branding guidelines to prevent other companies from “imply[ing] a partnership or endorsement where there isn’t one.”

Is OpenAI’s pursuit of a trademark for GPT heavy-handed or reasonable? In a May 12, 2023 survey, about two-thirds (66%) of readers said it was OpenAI’s prerogative: After all, “they were first.” Just one-third (34%) disagreed, calling the campaign “not OK.”

A Tool of One’s Own

Names also come into play when LSPs choose between owning or licensing their TMS and computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools: Buyers often find themselves debating the merits of folding acquired tech under their brand.

In an unusual move, Super Agency Lionbridge signed a multiyear contract integrating tech company Phrase’s CAT tool functionality into Lionbridge’s workflow. The April 2023 announcement came less than two years after the December 2021 SlatorPod episode in which  Lionbridge CEO John Fennelly noted that up to that point, Lionbridge had not licensed a third-party TMS.

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Lionbridge’s integration of Phrase technology calls to mind fellow Super Agency Welocalize, which chose a best-of-breed approach rather than the standard among most major LSPs, which own core TMS components.

Respondents to Slator’s April 21, 2023 survey confirmed that overall, LSPs take a flexible approach to the own vs. license debate, with nearly half (43.8%) stating that when it comes to TMS and CAT tools, large LSPs can do “a bit of both,” and a further 15.6% saying “it depends.” Ultimately, more than a quarter (28.1%) took a pro-ownership stance, while 12.5% said licensing would be preferable.

Long Live(d) Microsoft Language Portal

In an anomaly for language tech news, Microsoft made headlines not for introducing a new tool but for pulling the cord on its beloved online language portal. (True to form, however, Microsoft followed up by announcing a new machine translation feature just a few weeks later.)

Part multilingual online dictionary, part library of localization style guides and glossaries, the language portal was available in “nearly 100 languages.” Microsoft made the resource public in 2009, and will likely stop updating it by June 30, 2023. 

During its 14-year reign, the language portal became something of an institution, known among many IT translators as a “go-to reference” — and one without an immediately obvious replacement. 

Like it or not, the third (33.7%) of respondents to Slator’s May 5, 2023 poll who do not use Microsoft Language Portal will soon be joined by the nearly half (46.5%) who said they use it “often.” Less frequent users, accounting for almost one-fifth of respondents, access the portal sometimes (16.8%) or rarely (3.0%).