This preliminary report on the status of Ethiopic software was prepared by the Ethiopic Software Survey Technical Committee (ESSTC) that was established in April 1992. The committee comprises of Ethiopian graduate students and professionals from such varied backgrounds as software engineering and electrical engineering to the physical sciences. The project was initiated during technical discussions that took place on the Ethiopian Computer Network, EEDN or popularly known as Cleo. The effort was funded by the committee members themselves.
While this report is a product of a modest undertaking that addresses an important technical issue, it is hoped that it will give the end-users a 'feel' for the Ethiopic software available in the market and bring awareness about the status and future expansion plans of Ethiopic software. In subsequent stages, the report will be updated as more Ethiopic software enter the market and input from the end-users is collected.
There was a very enthusiastic response from the software developers that participated in the survey. The questionnaires were returned back promptly and with sufficient detail. The committee members would like to thank all the software developers who participated in the survey and gave encouraging words, particularly Abass Alamnehe, Fesseha Atlaw and Yitna Firdyiwek.
Due to the need for assessing the performance, price, portability, competitiveness, interoperability and reliability of Ethiopic software in the market, a comparative and status study was suggested by a group of Ethiopian graduate students and professionals in April 1992. The study is intended to:
o give a status report on Ethiopic software on the market
o identify the trend Ethiopic software development is following and make recommendations on possible improvements and applications in previously overlooked venues.
o forward recommendations as a starting point for future standards and guidelines.
The survey will concentrate on the following:
i) conducting a survey of Ethiopic software available in the market. The survey will determine the operating system, software application, hardware requirement/compatibility, cost, technical support, inter-compatibility, future plans etc.
ii) conducting a survey of users of Ethiopic software. User satisfaction in terms of ease of learning, hardware requirement, affordability, technical support and typing speed as determined by character representation and quality of product will be assessed.
iii) carrying out a survey of Ethiopic software designers and coders. Issues to be addressed include the type of targeted consumers, future plans, difficulties encountered etc.
In this preliminary report, a brief history of the origins of Ethiopic software, a brief profile of the companies that participated in the survey, a summary of the prices, operating environment, available support, application and network support etc. is given. A recommendation for applications in overlooked areas and new frontiers along with a word on the need to keep abreast with the International Standard Organization's (ISO) "unicode" is also included.
2. ORIGINS OF ETHIOPIC SOFTWARE
Even though the advent of computer technology has revolutionized almost all facets of educational and office-work environments universally, the Ethiopian community which uses one of the nation's languages hasn't been a direct benefactor up until the early 80's. The eighties witnessed a dramatic involvement by both Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian software developers in extending the computer revolution to Ethiopian languages and script. In the span of almost a decade, more than a dozen Ethiopic word-processing and utility software have been introduced.
At this stage, a number of books, journals, novels, and a Bible have been published using Ethiopic Desktop publishing software. Almost two dozen journals and newsletters are published regularly using Ethiopic word-processing packages. With a vast pool of users varying from major universities to government ministries and churches to community centers, Ethiopic software are already making a significant impact on the Ethiopian office work-force, literature and information exchange.
The first commercially available Ethiopic software was developed by Fesseha Atlaw of Dashen Engineering Company in 1985. Fesseha's word-processing program which was written for a DOS platform had a wide reception. The latest version of the program (i.e. fifth generation) has additional capabilities such as supporting the recent HP laser and Desk-Jet printers and inter- compatibility with graphics packages like Ventura and PC Paintbrush. A group of language researchers at Duke University, led by Jeffrey Gillette developed a Computer Assisted Learning Instructional Software (CALIS) for Ethiopic scripts. The program, CALIS, which was basically intended for educational purposes works with PC Write. Fekade Mesfin of Feedel company and Yemane Russom of Phonetics Systems were among the first to develop Ethiopic fonts for Macintosh computers. Lloyd Anderson of Ecological Institute, a Washington DC based company has independently developed Ethiopic fonts for Macintosh computers. He has also been actively involved in the effort to set up an international 16-bit code for Ethiopic characters.
Yitna Firdyiwek of Goha-Tibeb Inc., has successfully implemented Ethiopic fonts on WordPerfect Version 5.1. Yitna's add-on package utilizes all the sophistication of the parent program, WP5.1 and is convenient for Ethiopic script users who have familiarity with word-processing in the English language. Yitna has also been involved in consulting as a linguist for Ethiopian languages. Abass Alamnehe has designed Ethiopic fonts including fonts for mathematical expressions using METAFONT for TeX-a typesetting system created by Donald Knuth of Stanford University. The package called EthTeX, in addition to word-processing, also has a typesetting capacity. The EthTeX package is the first Ethiopic software of its kind that fills in the gap that has long existed in publishing scientific and mathematical documents in Ethiopic scripts. The Ethiopian Computers and Software Company based in Littleton, Colorado and headed by Dr. Bekele Molla has introduced a program called ModEth. The program has such features as a variable font (a character can be as big as a whole page), more than six font styles and five type faces: among which are Harrar, Shoa and Begemdir type faces. The design of the keyboard is also optionally left for the user.
For a number of years, the National Computer Center of Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission, based in Addis Ababa, has been involved in developing end-user Ethiopic software. Apart from word-processing, desk-top publishing and database software, the center has also developed a LAN-type local network, a modem software and a disk operating system. The center is also involved in providing training and tutorials in Ethiopic software.