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The Absent Minded Perfesser

Busy Desktop

By  John Philips

Crawling back to Windows

Once upon a time, before this column was born, I wrote something for Mike the editor about how I was switching from Windows to Macintosh. I had finally given up trying to get Arabic script up in Japanese Windows. Windows 2000 had promised the ability, but had not come through for personal users. Everyone I knew with the same problem had been telling me to just get a Mac. Some of them even laughed at me. I finally got a G4 with OS 9.2(J) and was very satisfied with it. I wasn't about to give up (or away) my Windows and Linux machines, but I did appreciate having a more flexible alternative.

Then OS X came out. It was even better. I could change the operating system language from Japanese to English and about a dozen others. I could even create multiple users with different OS languages, so that I could log on straight into Japanese, English, or almost any other major language in my OS. It was a perfect operating system for a multilingual family like mine. Or so I thought.

OS X had no support for right to left languages. Not only was Arabic completely missing, but so was Hebrew. I spent some time on the help boards that Apple so generously provides. I was far from the only person who was upset, and I was far less upset than some. Of course you could still use right-to-left languages in the OS 9 shell, but it was a hassle to boot up the 9.2 shell every time you wanted something in such a language. And most of the major software vendors were already well advanced porting their popular software to OS X.

Sure, one big draw of Macs is their graphic and video capabilities, but another has been their multilingual ability. Mac had always been way ahead of Windows in supporting a wide variety of languages and writing systems on its computers. It was Unicode compliant long before anything Microsoft put out was. It was the platform of choice for anyone using a variety of languages, especially those requiring non-Roman alphabets.

Emphasize the "was" in that last sentence. While OS X was a unique blend of Macintosh's user friendliness (think Japanese bar hostess) with UNIX-like stability, flexibility and power (think Russian gymnast), it no longer matched Microsoft's multilingual ability (think US high school student).

Windows XP finally gave users the ability to enter Japanese and Arabic in an English operating system. In fact, it automatically downloaded whatever language abilities you needed, so you could just surf to the UN homepage <> to get set up automatically to handle Arabic, Russian, Chinese, or any of the other half-dozen UN of- ficial languages. XP did ask you about it, but you didn't have to ask it, much less try to search a Microsoft database for the right files to install. Of course having Bill Gates' minions taking over your computer the way XP does left many people rather nervous, but that's another story, perhaps for another column. And I had other problems with that XP computer, some of which you may know about if you read the TPC newsgroups regularly.

Apple got the multilingual message fairly quickly, though. OS X.2 (aka "Jaguar") supports left-to-right languages, and in fact is fully Unicode compliant. In addition to the many languages you can use directly, and even make your OS work in, there is a "character palette" you can use to search for and insert characters. You can search by Unicode block, Unicode table, or glyph table. You can even save your favorites so you can find them easily. If it's in Unicode, and you have a font for it, you can use it in Jaguar. Finally there was a way to insert Arabic script Hausa language characters like __* [Unicode 069F]. Maybe now I can finally finish the Arabic script Hausa webpage I have been meaning to finish for years: <>.

Of course there are still problems. For one thing, there was no free upgrade to X.2. Had I known that such was the case, I, like many users, would have held off buying X.1 and just wanted for X.2, which had what we were really looking for. Furthermore, Unicode is an incredibly complex and constantly evolving standard and the issue of which characters should be added is being discussed on many fora around the net. It's not easy to keep up, even if you hang around the Unicode website:

I've given up talking about "switching" operating systems. I've come to realize that all major operating systems have their advantages and disadvantages. I like the idea of working with all of them. I've never been interested in Mac or Linux simply because I resented Bill Gates' money. I have to admit that his near success in monopolizing the computer OS market has had the effect of stifling innovation--Microsoft hasn't taken the lead in such things as multilingual ability --and breaking up Microsoft into separate OS and applications companies might have been one of the best things to happen to the computer industry. Still, if there's one thing the world in general--and yours truly personally --needs more than a Unicode compliant operating system, it's an effective malaria vaccine. That is one thing Bill Gates is way ahead of the competition in developing:

John Edward Philips, Ph.D.
tah characterMidnight Writer

* [On my Win98 system, I was unable, even after several hours of searching for and downloading numerous font sets, and updating Windows and Office 2000, to get this character to appear in the text. The character is shown to the right, as a graphic, and is described on as "Arabic character tah with three dots above, Old Hausa". -- Mike]

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

January , 2003

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN