NRSI: Computers & Writing Systems
NRSI Update #3 – November 1996
Welcome to issue #3 of the NRSI Update! We’ve held back this issue until after the Computer Technical Conference in Waxhaw. Enjoy!
In this issue:
Introducing the Newest NRSI Team Member: Peter Constable
by Peter Constable
Since August, NRSI has had a new team member working here in Dallas. Margaret wanted me to let people know who I am and what I’m up to, so here goes:
Who am I?
I’m Peter Constable. I’m a native of Montreal, PQ, Canada, though Toronto was my more recent home base. My wife, Lori, and I have an adopted son, Joshua, who is not quite 3 years old and who has been part of our family since he was two months old. We thank God that we were able to complete the legal adoption process this past June, and are presently trying to figure out how to establish citizenship for him. (He is a “stateless” child; i.e. he does not have citizenship anywhere this side of heaven.)
I studied Mathematics at the University of Waterloo, and later received an MA in Linguistics from the University of N. Dakota. I’ve been a member of SIL since 1984. While still a “Member in Training”, I spent some time in Mexico and had a lot of interaction with the SIL Mexico Branch as I researched a Mayan language for my MA thesis. Lori and I also spent4.5 years in Thailand working with the SIL Mainland Southeast Asia Group, of which we are still members.
We completed a year of furlough in July of this year, but are not able to return to Thailand yet for family-related reasons (not the least of which is the need to establish citizenship for Josh). It is this circumstance that resulted in our coming to Dallas and me working with the NRSI: in looking for something to work on, non-roman scripts seemed particularly relevant to me, given the area of the world I have been working in.
What am I working on?
From the time I arrived through the end of the Non-Roman Technical Consultation (NRTC) in September, I was given a chance to get oriented to what everyone on the team here was doing and to begin learning about NRS issues. One practical contribution I was able to make during that time was to do some development on a KeyMan keyboard for Biblical Hebrew.
While at NRTC, I started getting a clearer idea of exactly what areas I thought I should focus on.
Anticipating the possibility that several script development projects may eventually be needed for needs in SE Asia, I realized that our entity(MSEAG) did not have a lot of expertise in dealing with the broad range of issues involved in planning script development projects, nor did we have much technical expertise in creating script solutions, especially using new technologies. Those areas caught my interest. Accordingly, Margaret and I for me to work on management of script development projects and on script engineering.
Conveniently, while that role for me was coming to light, discussions had been underway about starting a new development project: Ethiopic. Margaret asked me to dive right in and take on the management of that project. As we get into the development, I’ll be working with Victor, apprenticing as it were, in learning how to do script magic using TrueType GX.
Beside Ethiopic, we have been interacting with people in Asia on various matters, and Margaret has asked me to be our point person for anything with regard to that area of the world.
Because of my academic background, there has been a question as to whether I should take responsibility for activities that fall under the Academic Research section of NRSI. This is still a possibility, though I don’t feel I have quite enough understanding of NRS issues yet to know what I should take on in this regard. I have been giving some thought to certain NRS issues that are academic in nature and will see if my gray cells can come up with anything useful.
In relation to NRS academic matters, I am presently taking the LinguaLinks training course for computer support personnel with the intent of becoming familiar with that package as a whole, and also trying to come to a specific understanding of the conceptual modeling of languages and language encodings and how those particular components interact with the rest of the system.
Part of a great team!
I wouldn’t feel right talking about myself without also expressing my appreciation to the people I have the privilege of working with. They have all been very gracious and helpful in assisting me as I work through the learning curve. I very much enjoy working with them.
I’ve appreciated the opportunities I’ve had to meet and interact with many of you folks that live and work with NR scripts around the world, and I look forward to continuing to work with all of you to tackle this area that is both challenging and fun, and which represent an enormous set of needs.
Non-Roman Script Solutions on Windows: an Update
by: Bob Hallissy
The recent Computer Technical Conference held in Waxhaw was a pivotal time in the effort to provide general-purpose non-roman solutions for users of Microsoft Windows operating systems. Briefly, the sequence of events was as follows:
During the NRSI update, I presented the results of my research into Microsoft’s TrueType Open (TTO) technology. My conclusion was that while TTO had the theoretical ability to provide good non-roman solutions, the approach that Microsoft is taking with this technology discourages application developers from using it to implement general-purpose non-roman solutions. [For more information, see NRSI Update #2]
Is there a future for Windows solutions?
After the disappointing news about TTO, concern grew that the NRSI might not attempt further research into flexible rendering systems for Windows suitable for minority language/script use. A group of interested field delegates and NRSI team members met to discuss the concerns, and to dialog on various “partial” solutions (a.k.a. “Band-Aids”) that have been developed. The NRSI received a clear signal from the field that we should not give up on research and development into Windows rendering solutions, even if such solutions would be available only in SIL-written software.
One partial solution suggested by the NRSI is to complete the development of a cookbook approach to adapting Middle East 95 to minority scripts that are similar to Arabic. The cookbook would need to give exact instructions on how to determine whether a given Arabic-derived script could be shoehorned into MEW95, and then spell out the tools and techniques to actually do the work.
Another solution suggested
During the meeting, one field delegate suggested that we consider implementing a module for Windows programs that partially emulates the Apple Macintosh GX font system. While the module would work only in SIL-developed software, the strengths of such an approach are numerous:
a) The API is defined and known to be sufficient b) GX-based script solutions developed by the NRSI would have cross-platform potential c) Apple is known to have some similar capability (GX on Windows) but it is unclear how/if it will be marketed. If Apple’s work does become available to us, we simply replace our partial solution with their complete solution.
It is not known whether such a project (or a similar one based on WorldScript technology), would really be within the realm of feasibility for SIL. However, the NRSI agreed to evaluate these approaches and, if found feasible, to develop a solution that can be incorporated into SIL software.
Fields send clear message
In an effort to send a message of solidarity to the NRSI, the field delegates presented the following motion to the floor of the CTC:
WHEREAS Windows solutions to non-Roman script problems are still inadequate for meeting the needs of members in a number of entities;
MOVED that, in addition to continued development on the Mac platform, the Non-Roman Script Initiative (NRSI) continue to commit funds and personnel for providing further solutions for non-Roman script problems on the Windows family of operating systems, and help coordinate field efforts in that direction.
In the closing moments of the CTC, the motion passed 25 For, 1 Against, with 3 Abstentions.
The Future of the MacOS
by Victor Gaultney
A few months ago, Apple Computer announced that they were making a dramatic shift in their operating system strategy, including the cancellation of the MacOS 8 release named “Copland”. Instead of putting all their efforts into a single monolithic operating system release, they will be making major upgrades to the current MacOS System 7.5.5 every six months, with minor updates halfway between the major releases. This helps them keep their current OS up to date, but does not make room for the delivery of a faster, more competitive OS.
In the last few weeks, though, word has gotten out that Apple is still wanting to come up with an OS that is truly competitive to Windows NT, even at the cost of software compatibility. They have been talking with many companies (including Be, Inc.) about buying major parts of their operating systems and grafting on key Mac technologies. The result would be a truly object-oriented, multithreaded, fast OS with preemptive multitasking and protected memory, all delivered in early 1998. A public announcement of their plans is due in mid- January.
A major operating system shift like this can be a great opportunity to press for better minority script support, but can also isolate technologies(like QuickDraw GX) that have not been enthusiastically embraced by major industry players. The good news is that Apple has loudly stated that whatever happens, key technologies like WorldScript, in particular, will be part of the new MacOS. We in the NRSI will also be pressing Apple to continue to put international technologies in the forefront.
(see “Plan Be” in MacUser, January 1997, for more information)
by Dennis Drescher
For those who are unfamiliar with what Project Kokou is, simply put, it is a text processing management system. It has been under development this past year and is almost to the beta stage. As a publishing systems developer for the NRSI one of the most tedious tasks to be considered is the processing of text. Various languages and writing systems have different needs when it comes to preparing text for final long document publication. However, I discovered that there are a lot of similarities too. Kokou is an attempt to focus on the similarities and yet provide a flexible environment for the differences. For an overview of Project Kokou please refer to the references below.
The main thrust of Project Kokou development occurred from July 9thto September 5th. During that time I had the privilege of working with C. Scott Ananian, a student from Princeton university. While he was here he helped me shape the ideas that I had into a conceptual model. In September at the NRTC and this past November at the CTC held at JAARS, I had an opportunity to present the Kokou conceptual model. The idea seemed to be well accepted and I was given many constructive comments. I now have eleven people who are interested in helping with the beta testing.
Through the month of December I am involved with another research project. However, in January I plan to return full time to Kokou development. The goal is to have a beta ready for distribution in February or March. If you are interested in knowing more about Project Kokou just drop me a line.
by Peter Martin
NRSI team members are participating in Macromedia’s beta test program for the new Fontographer 5.0. There has been vigorous discussion on the beta testers’ mailing list which has given the Fog development team much food for thought. There is no release date for the new version at present.
Under our Non-Disclosure Agreement with Macromedia, we cannot say much about the specifics of 5.0. We can say that it brings the Windows and Macintosh versions in sync, and that there are a number of genuinely useful innovations. We still have the opportunity to contribute Feature Requests or Feature Modification Requests to the development process. Let me know if you have specific ideas.
The currently shipping version for both Windows and Macintosh is 4.1. Over previous versions, this offers additions and improvements in design tools, import and export facilities, encodings (including custom vectors), font generation options, kerning and metrics assistance and customizable sounds (!).
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