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Home  >  Tamil Digital Renaissance > Tamil Fonts & Software > Tamil Internet 2000 > Tamil Fonts, Keyboards & Beyond

TAMILS & THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION

Tamil Fonts, Keyboards and Beyond

Dr. M. Anandakrishnan
Vice-Chairman, Tamilnadu State Council For Higher Education,
Lady Willington College Campus, Kamarajar Salai, Chennai 600 005 at Tamil Internet 2000, Directions to the Digital World, Singapore 22-24 July 2000


Preface

The talent, interest and energy in Tamil Computing are widely scattered around the world. For nearly two decades, the expertise and enthusiasm of this community were reflected as individual efforts mainly engaged in development of fonts and keyboard drivers.

The fast changes in the computing environment and worldwide proliferation of Internet usage have widened the base of interest in Tamil Computing and Internet applications. In this evolution, the first Tamilnet'97 Conference in Singapore identified the key issues and outlined the scope for further intensive efforts. The second Conference, Tamilnet'99 held in Chennai provided the basis for evolving common schemes for Tamil font encoding and Tamil keyboard configuration.

Since then, there has been a sharp increase in he level of activities in development of products and initiating efforts in new directions responding to the rapid advances in information technology. Current momentum includes, attention to operating systems, OCR, Text to Voice, Tamil Browsers, remote communication, printers, font and Tamil menus, dynamic fonts, Tamil e-mail, Tamil Domain Names, Tamil Virtual libraries, Web-based Tamil Courses and so on. This paper presents an overview of the efforts in Tamil Nadu.

Introduction

    Since the early eighties, when personal computers became available extensively, a number of persons with deep interest in Tamil began development of Tamil fonts for use in the computers. A large number of Tamil fonts were created as glyphs allocating the upper half of the 8 bit ASCII Table. Individual font developers assigned different code positions to different characters and modifiers.

Since most of these initial developments were in English speaking countries with easier access to personal computers than India, many chose to adopt Romanised Keyboards, with some small variations in using the QWERTY keys for some Tamil fonts. There were also developments of Tamil keyboard configurations, either resembling largely the Remington Tamil Typewriter or with configurations of individual taste and reasoning.

    The Singapore Tamilnet 97 Conference organized by Dr. Naa Govindasamy highlighted these variations and the consequent handicaps in promoting use of Tamil in computers and in effective penetration of Tamil in Internet. This challenge was articulated extensively by a group of enthusiastic persons through the discussion group TSCII (Tamil Standard Character for Information Interchange). At the same time Dr. Naa Govindasamy evolved font encoding schemes and keyboard configurations through the IRDU (Internet Research and Development Unit) of Singapore.

    The Tamilnet 99 at Chennai provided an occasion to review these initiatives and suggested that the Tamil Glyph Encoding should consist of a monolingual (TAM) as well as a 2 bilingual (TAB) scheme. It also recommended a phonetic keyboard layout. The conference drew attention to the various important and urgent efforts required to be undertaken.

Convergence in Font Encoding

    Most, if not all, of the Font Developers are since converging towards one of the following encoding schemes:

Anjal, TSCII, TAM, TAB , and Unicode

    The user community is getting accustomed to the products based on one or the other scheme determined by their convenience for exchange of documents, e-mail communication, operating environments and ease of availability and support. In Tamil Nadu all of these schemes are in use. There are also a few, mainly some Tamil newspapers on the Internet, who continue to use fonts outside these schemes either due to inertia or backend compatibility.

Convergence in Keyboard Configuration

The Tamil keyboard configuration in computer has also been converging towards the following:

Romanized
Tamil 99 (phonetic)
Typewriter
Unicode

The Romanized keyboard is mostly akin to Anjal sequence. Some variations in this need to be resolved. It is very convenient for those familiar with the English language.

The Tamil 99 keyboard does not require the use of shift key except for Grantha characters. Since one needs to remember only about half the key positions as compared to other systems, the new learners are attracted to this. The availability of bilingual keyboards based on Tamil 99 configuration facilitates its widespread use. The automatic - pulli - is an add-on convenience.

The typewriter keyboard is used by persons accustomed to the Remington Tamil Typewriters. The Government of Tamil Nadu has also recommended a common configuration for the typewriter keyboard configuration for computers.

The recent introduction of Unicode Tamil in Windows 2000 will require familiarity with its keyboard configuration.  It may be pointed out that it does not matter which keyboard configuration is used as long as the associated keyboard driver is available. It is a matter of individual's choice and convenience.

Certification Objective

    For the users in Tamil Nadu Government system it has been decided that they would use TAM or TAB primarily to ensure transportability of data and information. To ensure that the purchases of Tamil Software products by Government users are assured of compatibility, the Government designated the Kanithamizh Sangam to undertake the responsibility to evaluate and certify that the software products conform to the TAM/TAB encoding scheme.

It also required the keyboards to conform to the Tamil99 and/or the recommended typewriter configuration and the associated prescribed key sequence. The process of evaluation by Kanithamizh Sangam has built-in transparency and checks. It has been helpful in expediting product evaluation and to build in confidence in government purchases without procedural hurdles. It is also a convenience for Tamil software developers. The users outside the government system need not insist on certification for encoding.

Certified Products

    After the Tamilnet 99 Conference on 7-8 February 1999, the Government of Tamil Nadu announced on 13.06.1999 the encoding standards for TAM/TAB fonts and Keyboard configuration of Tamil 99. Kanithamizh Sangam has so far certified 17 products for conformity to Tamil 99 standards.

Other Products in Use

    Apart from the certified products, many other products that are now available in the market have followed the Tamil 99 Standards exclusively or as one of the options, as for example:

MURASU ANJAL 2000 With 6 Keyboard and 6 Encoding Options, including TAM and TAB Fonts and Tamil 99 Keyboard Works with TAM Fonts and Tamil 99 Keyboard
MIN TAMIL Works with Tam Fonts and Tamil 99 Keyboard
TAMIL ANJAL Email Software Works with Tamil 99 Keyboard
TAMIL DOMAIN NAMES By I-DNS, Singapore - incorporate TAB Fonts
i-LEAP Word Processor with TAM and TAB Fonts and Tamil 99 Keyboard as one of the options
TEXT TO SPEECH SOFTWARE Multilingual software developed by IIT, Madras including TAB Fonts

Ongoing Activities

A number of initiatives are currently underway in developing new Tamil softwares and tools such as:

- IDHAM 2000 - An Advanced Tamil Interface for MS Windows**

- Bilingual Search Engine for Tamil and English Sites**
- Tamil JAVA - A Tamil Pre-processor for JAVA**
- Tamil 99 Keyboard Driver under DOS**
- Optical Character Reader (OCR) Software** (** These are described in separate papers sub-nitted for the Conference.)
- Text to Speech Synthesizer - This will convert any machines readable text into speech
- PONN - A Tamil Operating System - This will provide an operating environment both in Tamil and English with facility for user communication and design to execute the commands given in Tamil.

Conclusion

    Considering the rapid changes in the hardware systems, application softwares, operating environments and communication devices, there are many new challenges that are to be undertaken with time-bound goals and involving the best talents available worldwide. It would be useful to assign the primary responsibility for undertaking the development tasks to a particular institution or a research group who should be funded adequately. The progress of work should be reviewed at predefined intervals not only by the funding agency but also through another designated mechanism such as INFITT.

    New demands for development of unique products which are of immediate relevance should also be identified through such a mechanism and evolve a method to analyse the involvement of competent persons. It is high time that the perspectives on Tamil computing and Tamil Internet are guided by vision and hope far beyond font encoding and keyboards.

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