Agored, an English-Welsh word processor developed by the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, could make life easier for bilingual communities around the world.

The software contains prominent buttons to switch the language of the user interface between English and Welsh. Similar buttons change the language used by the spell-checker, either for the whole document or for one paragraph.

Agored, named for the Welsh word for open, is based on the open-source application 2.0. There's already a Welsh-language version of OpenOffice, but the application interface only shows one language at a time, and changing it involves delving into the menus.

Much of the bilingual functionality that Agored adds to the interface is already present in OpenOffice, but not readily accessible, said David Chan, a programmer who worked on the project. Agored makes it easier for users to sit down in front of a computer and switch the application to their strongest language, he said.

Wales has two official languages with equal status, Welsh and English, and local government bodies and other public organisations must issue documents in both.

Almost one in four of the country's 2.8 million inhabitants speak, read or write Welsh, according to the latest national census, but there are few exclusively Welsh-speaking communities left.

"Those people need bilingual software, not Welsh software," Chan said.

In addition to the coding, a lot of work went into the translation of Agored's menu items, dialogues and numerous help files - around half a million words in all, according to Diarmuid Johnson, who worked on the translation.

The University of Wales at Aberystwyth developed Agored with funding from the National Assembly for Wales, the Welsh public television channel S4C and the Welsh Language Board. Some of the computer-related terms had already been defined by the Welsh Language Board in a joint project with Microsoft in 2004 that led to the creation of a Welsh language interface pack for Office 2003, Johnson said.

In the three days following Agored's release on 16 November, it was downloaded 200 times, Chan said.

The functions that Agored adds to OpenOffice could interest many more people than that, though. Chan said the project team took care to make their code changes useful to other bilingual communities, groups that could include speakers of English and Irish Gaelic in Ireland; of French and Dutch in the Belgian capital of Brussels; of French and German in Switzerland, and of Basque and Spanish or of Catalan and Spanish in Spain. Chan said he had already been contacted by Catalan speakers during Agored's development.