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NRSI: Computers & Writing Systems

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You are here: General
Short URL: http://scripts.sil.org/NRSIUpdate07

NRSI Update #7 – October 1997

NRSI staff, 1997-10-01

Welcome to issue #7 of the NRSI Update!

In this update:

WinRend Development Report

by Margaret Swauger

The WinRend development team is assembling in Dallas, beginning the first phase of work — research. Bob Hallissy, Wes Cleveland, Joel Lee, and (hopefully) Martin Hosken (visa permitting) will be delving into severaltechnologies to determine the best architecture for the rendering engine mandated by the NRSI Field Advisory Board (AB) last May (see WinRend, NRSI Update #5).

The goal is to develop a flexible, non-Roman Windows rendering engine for use in SIL apps. We want this solution to be user accessible and we want to develop it with regular and significant field input. We plan to have a development direction ready for evaluation by the CTWC (Nov 18 &19). We envision the final product to consist of a rendering engine and a set of script tools for the user.

Some of the areas under consideration are:

  • SDF — expanding the successful work of Timm Erickson
  • GX/WorldScript — taking the power of this Apple technology and making it available on Windows.
  • Unicode — evaluating the potential of Unicode-based applications such as Office 97

In addition to the team listed above, we will be enlisting the expertise of our Mac specialists (Victor, Jonathan, et al) and those with strong linguistic skills (Peter Constable, Timm Erickson, for example) as well as those on the AB.

SIL Hebrew Update

by Joan Wardell

Windows Keyboard Coming Everyone, including us, is eagerly awaiting the Windows release with keyboard of the SIL Hebrew Font System. Due to confusion on the part of some users, we have removed the Windows 0.5 release from the SIL Web page. Currently, only the Macintosh version is available. The Windows keyboard is currently being tested by members of the Translation Department.

Macintosh WorldScript and GX Fonts Coming On the Macintosh front, staff are working on a ‘smart’ font which will perform in WorldScript and GX applications. The GX coding is completed and the WorldScript functionality is currently being added. The WorldScript version should allow full right-to-left capability in WorldScript-aware applications, although the cantillation mark placement will not be as refined as with the GX font. With GX, you will have the added capability of a ‘smart’ transliteration font, making it possible to use the same text for either Hebrew or transliteration. We are not currently planning a WorldScript transliteration font — a left-to-right rendering of right-to-left encoded text is not supported.

Further information and the full (Mac) package are available here.

Eleventh International Unicode Conference

by Bob Hallissy

The 11th International Unicode Conference was held in San Jose, California, September 2-4, 1997, and I was privileged to attend. A complete report covering Unicode basics, conference overview (attendees and content), overall impressions (about the conference and about Unicode), plus detailed descriptions of the sessions I attended, is available from the NRSI, Dallas ().

The conference was organized as five hours of plenary sessions with the remaining time split into three simultaneous tracks, so I was able to take in about one third of the event. Topical areas included: Internet standards, Java, software development case studies, applications, databases, fonts, character sets, platform support, internationalization, localization, searching, and complex scripts (e.g., Arabic, Chinese-Japanese-Korean).

A few of the sessions, including “Concepts of Text, and the Evolution of Markings and Meanings” (Charles Bigelow, Stanford), and “Towards Arabic Computer Typography” (Tom Milo, DecoType), were outstanding. However, most of the remainder, including the tutorial sessions that preceded the actual conference, was not as technically deep as I had hoped.

In my opinion, now is the time for SIL to begin including Unicode support in its applications. A critical mass of support is now appearing, including MS Office 97, Java, and Windows NT all of which are internally Unicode; Apple is currently working on Unicode Imaging Services (see Apple article below). Web content is increasingly Unicode, and other applications (such as MS Publisher) are racing to include Unicode facilities. Finally, Unicode supports most of the national languages SIL requires.

Unicode is not a panacea, however. Keep in mind that Unicode is a character encoding standard only — it does not encompass keyboarding or rendering, both of which are non-trivial concerns. Right now, no one provides complete production-quality rendering for all scripts covered by Unicode. We can expect operating systems to provide basic facilities for legible rendering of any script, leaving the finer points of script behavior and rendering to other applications. For example, the MS Publisher team is hard at work developing a Unicode rendering engine for their product.

The other thing to remember about Unicode is that many of the world’s scripts are years from being standardized, and thus we will always have a need to work with scripts that do not have a presence in the Unicode standard. There is a block of character codes called the Private Use Area, but whether we can take advantage of these for non-standardized scripts is not yet clear.

SDF Experiences

by Carla Radloff

I’m involved in a language project where we can easily write the language phonemically, but adapting the national language right-to-left cursive script to represent the significant sounds and their combinations is a bit of a trick. We’re definitely at the experimental stage where tweaks to the script itself are many and frequent, and changes in the representation of the phonemes in the script are even more so.

Timm Erickson’s SDF-based Rendering system (See Introducing the SDF-based Rendering Engine, NRSI Update #4) has come along at the perfect time for this project. His development of the SDF Editor—a visual tool for creating script definition files — has made it possible for me, an OWL, to use the Rendering system and make the necessary, constant adjustments to fit it to the current stage of our thinking as we negotiate on script matters. I’ve entered the phonemic representation of the sounds as my “source” in the SDFE with the trial versions in the adapted national script as the “target”. Because it’s a cursive script, the position in the word affects the form of the character. It’s so easy to lay it all out in the SDFE.

LinguaLinks is the platform for this language project I’m on, and as soon as we’re more decided on these script matters, I’ll start using it inside LinguaLinks. LL version 1.5 has the capability of using the SDF rendering system and has right-to-left processing built in. For the present, I use a macro inside of MS Word to flip and change individual words or single lines of text, since Word does not have right-to-left processing built in. I can type the vernacular in normal phonemic transcription, then with the macro, the SDF-based rendering system converts it to the current version of the script. This really helps for testing different versions of the script, since it’s so easy to make changes via the SDFE. The SDFE also can make conversions on a text file, and I’ve used that capability often, too.

As I said at the beginning of these paragraphs, the SDF-based rendering system has come along at the perfect time for my language project. I’m so grateful to have access to something that is designed to help right where I need it.

What is Apple Doing, Anyway?

by Victor Gaultney

Introduction Apple has been going through a few changes lately (if you haven’t noticed). Keeping track of the transformations has been far from easy. Thankfully, it seems (at this point) that the technologies and features that make the Macintosh valuable and useful for SIL are still around and may even get better.

Steve Jobs is back Having replaced key people in Apple’s leadership, Steve Jobs has returned to the top position at Apple. He’s replaced most of the Board of Directors, and has taken day-to-day control of basically everything. He is still pondering whether or not to officially accept the permanent CEO position, but it seems to be just delaying the inevitable. Not everyone is thrilled to see Steve Jobs back in control, but it does hold out some hope that Apple can survive — and maybe even thrive again.

Clones are history In early September Apple decided that the clone business was siphoning off a lot of business from their core revenue stream — hardware sales. The clones were just too good, too fast and too cheap. In their effort to trim costs, they also found that future MacOS licensing revenues would not even cover the costs of making versions of the MacOS to run on the clones.

As a result, Apple bought out the major clone vendor — PowerComputing — and will have liquidated their products by the end of the year. Motorola and IBM have immediately closed their MacOS clone businesses (although they will both continue to manufacture PowerPC chips for Apple and others).Despite this, at least one Asian vendor has re-signed an agreement with Apple and plans to continue their operations — but focusing on delivering MacOS machines to Asian markets.

Although the cancelling of clones still bothers me, I must admit that Apple probably had no other fiscally responsible option. Some complain that lack of competition will drive up prices, but Apple seems to realize that they will have to produce machines that can compete with fast Intel boxes, and that means low prices all around.

Apple + Microsoft = 100% An even bigger surprise was the August announcement that Apple and Microsoft had made a wide ranging agreement with five major points:

  • A broad patent cross-licensing agreement. No more lawsuits over QuickTime, etc. This also means that MS could now use Apple’s Line Layout mechanism (from QuickDraw GX) which is protected by a U.S. patent (although this is highly unlikely).
  • Continued Microsoft development of MacOS applications. This includes versions of MS Office and Internet Explorer that are on the same level of development as the Windows versions. This was pretty necessary as MS applications for the Mac still hold a large majority in some areas. The best part of this is that MS has changed their attitude toward Mac apps, realizing that users want “real” Mac apps, not just ports of the Windows version.
  • Bundling of Internet Explorer as the default browser for the MacOS. This is clearly a big win for Microsoft and effectively breaks up the Netscape/Sun/Apple alliance against Microsoft.
  • Collaboration on Java virtual machines. This is another blow for Netscape and Sun, but assures that Java apps/applets written for the Mac will work in Windows and vice versa.
  • Microsoft will invest $150 million in non-voting Apple stock to be held for a minimum of 3 years. This is a very small amount of money (for both Apple and MS), is not the first time that MS has invested in Apple, and helps balance out the patent cross-licensing agreement. Nevertheless, it is more symbolic than practical.

Both sides have added their “spin” to the announcement. Steve Jobs explains that Apple + Microsoft = 100% of the desktop market, so cooperation is great for everyone. The bottom line, though is that Apple and MS will stop their fighting (and share technologies), Apple will not aid Sun and Netscape in their war on MS, and Apple will get great new versions of MSOffice. I and others think, though, that the underlying reason for this cooperation is that Apple’s continued success will also help Microsoft avoid US anti-trust laws.

Whatever the reasons for this agreement may be, it is really good news for most users. It assures that industry leading apps will still be cross-platform (and even improve). It also means that Apple’s very closely held international technologies could be shared with Microsoft.

The Other Developers Other major developers seem to like Apple’s new strategies. Adobe, Quark and Macromedia have all come out with praises and tangible promises of support. Adobe’s MacOS applications revenue has not only kept up with the growth in their Windows apps, but has even gained back lost ground.

The Other Investors Apple’s financial investors fared well after the Microsoft announcement with a stock jump of over 130 percent since just before Steve Jobs took over. Since then, Apple has announced a loss of $1 billion for the last fiscal year, but still has far more than that in cash and is in no danger of running out of money or other assets anytime soon. This news has caused the stock to drop some, but trading is still over 50 percent above the pre-Jobs level.

Rhapsody is in developers’ hands The first public developer release of Rhapsody, Apple’s next generation OS, is now in developers’ hands. Reactions have been very positive, with application announcements growing. Every indication is that this first release is everything it has been advertised to be — and is even better than expected!

The best news on this front is Apple’s attitude that Rhapsody is not a “brain transplant” for the MacOS. It will be marketed primarily as a server platform first, with the MacOS still touted as the choice for most desktops, similar to Microsoft’s strategy with Windows NT and 95.This will leave plenty of time for application developers to move their products to Rhapsody.

Unicode Imaging Services At the developer conference in May, Apple announced their intention to bring many of the high-end typographic features of QuickDraw GX into WorldScript and make them a more mainstream part of the OS. At a Unicode conference in September they showed that they are on the way to making this a reality with Unicode Imaging Services — a new set of APIs that make a fully Unicode supportive rendering mechanism available to a wider range of applications. Details are still unknown at this point, but this is a very good sign of Apple’s continued focus on international technologies.

Conclusion In the end, I must admit a reluctance to believe that Apple can thrive again. It will take a major turnaround for Apple to get back on a steady course. No one really knows whether this will happen or not.

From an SIL perspective, though, it would be difficult to argue that Macintosh development should be abandoned. Nothing in Apple’s recent actions take away technologies that we depend on for non-roman script computing. On the contrary, they hold out greater hope for the future and assure that solutions developed for the MacOS now will continue to be viable for along time.

Seybold Publishing Expo, San Francisco 1997

by Peter Martin

Keynote speeches These were the most colorful and emotionally charged events of the show. Microsoft’s CEO, Bill Gates, and Apple’s Interim CEO, Steve Jobs, each spoke for an hour followed by Q&A time. Bill majored on the Web Life Style we will all be living, soon if not already, using Microsoft products (especially Windows NT and Internet Explorer), and received a polite hearing from the graphics and publishing industry users (read “Mac users”, at least for the time being).Steve talked on the main points of Apple’s strategy (see Victor’s article), and allowed the CEOs of Adobe, Quark and Macromedia to share their enthusiasm for Apple’s new strategy (they are part of a small group of partners whom Apple has allowed into the boardroom) and for Steve Jobs himself. Steve just missed another standing ovation, at the end of a quite emotional experience for many users present.

Macromedia Fontographer We were surprised to find that none of the Fontographer team were present at the Macromedia booth, nor was there a Fontographer demo station. One of the main objectives of my visit was to try to discover whether Macromedia is still committed to developing Fontographer as a product (this is our type design tool of choice). I was able to meet with Russ Novy, Graphics Division, who assured me that Fontographer is a key product for the company, and that we can expect to see a new version when FreeHand Studio 8 is released in the Spring of 1998.He felt that a Fontographer presence at Seybold was unnecessary, with the Macromedia User Conference taking place the following week in the same hall.

Monotype Darrel Eppler and I were able to have useful conversations with folks from Monotype Typography. They are interested in discussing the possibility of them hinting1 some of our fonts; we also talked over options for doing hinting ourselves (beyond that provided by Fontographer). They confirmed our own opinion that hinting is a complex and time-consuming task, requiring expensive tools and extensive training; they did suggest we talk to the Microsoft Typography people about the new Visual TrueType product...

Microsoft’s Typography Group Greg Hitchcock, lead developer, talked to me about his product, Visual TrueType. VTT is intended primarily as a hinting tool, a product we could put to very good use with non-Roman fonts. Previously we had found only high-end high-priced software (US$15,000) whereas this product may be priced as low as US$1000. Bob Hallissy and I will report more on this tool after the October Open Type Developer’s Conference in Redmond, WA.

Multi-Ad Inc. Primarily a developer of advertising management software, they unveiled a DTP application called Creator 2 (a major rework of Creator, a product aimed at newspaper publishers), and gave away demo CDs by the handful. The demos are impressive, but what really caught our eye was their support for GX typography on the Mac (a Windows version is in the works). More impressive still is the fact that they implemented for themselves parts of the GX printing architecture which Apple had withdrawn from recent versions of the MacOS; it took them 8 months of extra development effort, but they did it. As they work on the port to Windows, we have indicated an interest in discussing a collaboration which might benefit our own WinRend development.

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1 Hinting: TrueType and PostScript fonts may contain instructions(hints) which improve the display of characters at low resolutions, e.g. monitors and small point size print. Hints are stored in the font as instructions for a virtual machine, though products such as Fontographer and now Visual TrueType provide a visual interface for creating these instructions.

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