THE CHALLENGE OF WINDOWS AND ETHIOPIC LANGUAGES

Fekade S. Mesfin, Los Angeles, CA

feedel@aol.com

It has been quite some time since Word-processing for Ethiopic languages have been conquered in the DOS applications. There is now a newer challenge to bring this conquest into the Windows world.

The development of Windows 3.0 and Windows 3.1 have helped in carving smoother paths for developers but the challenge still remains to develop true Windows compatibility. The introduction of True Type and Adobe Type Manager (for Type 1 Postscript fonts) for Windows have helped bring Ethiopic characters to the Windows screen with clarity. However, developing fonts was only the smallest task to conquer.

Challenge #1.

As we all know, the Ethiopic characters are over 300 characters. Windows allows only about 224 characters to be mapped in a given font.

Challenge #2.

A true Ethiopic Windows application should be able to work without discriminating other Window applications, i.e., one should be able to type in all Windows word processor applications, spreadsheet applications, database applications, etc. This is to say that whatever one can do with the English alphabets in Windows applications, one should be able to do the same with Ethiopic alphabets.

Challenge #3.

Remapping of the keyboard in Windows, such that one is capable of working in all application is a continuous challenge for developers.

Challenge #4.

Because of the limited market, a fully localized version for the Ethiopic languages is not in sight. Localizing here means that all of the Windows menus and dialog characters including file naming conventions to be in Ethiopic languages.

Challenge #5.

Data-Base processing is the dream of business men in Ethiopia, the above challenges make this the ultimate challenge.

What is available?

- Currently there are software that have arisen to the challenges of Windows. One application tries to overcome the obstacles of Windows programming by developing a DOS application that can save the file format that is easily readable in Windows word processor applications. The software comes with True Type fonts and the text file opens up in the Windows word-processing applications with the Ethiopic fonts. Here challenge No. 1 is met by a customized text editor application and by breaking the fonts into two fonts. However, challenge no. 2, 3, 4 and 5 are still yet to be conquered.

- Another application has successfully mapped all the characters by using vowel signs into one font with keyboard utility customized for one application. Here also challenge no 2, 3, 4 and 5 still remain to be conquered.

- Other applications have divided the Ethiopic fonts into 7 or more fonts with keyboard utilities for one or two applications. The above challenges still remain to be tackled.

- One other application has mapped the alphabets into one font by using the vowel signs. This package allows one to work with a variety of applications since it has customized the keyboard driver for Windows.

One area for this package that remain to be conquered is data base processing, challenge no. 5. With the advent of this conquest, spell checking or Ethiopic languages dictionary will fall right in line bringing windows closer to speaking Ethiopic.

Challenge #4 will still remain at large since it will be determined by the market. It should be noted that localizing Windows 3.1 could probably be accomplished but the hundreds of applications that are in existence will be a financial burden to localize.

A word of caution for ultimate Ethiopic software users. Know what you are buying and know what your needs are and most of all request the warranty or guarantee that as a user are entitled to.