Last month on 15th March 2012 at New Delhi, W3C India & IAMAI (Internet & Mobile Association of India) had organized an one day conference titled “Mobile Web Initiative in India”. I got invited to participate in one of the panel discussions on the day “Challenges of Indic Adoption on Mobile Web” covering on the Technology for enabling Indian Languages on Mobile Platform & Lack of standard interoperability.
The panel was moderated by Ms.Swaran Latha (W3C India Country Manager & Director & HoD for TDIL Programme of MC & IT of Government of India). The moderator covered in length the challenges in this area, what Govt. of India is doing to get all stakeholders on board in enabling Indian Languages, nudging them into place without any hard legislations. My good friend and the expert on this field Mr.Muthu Nedumaran from Murasu Systems (Malaysia) covered on the technologies that are now available including in iOS, Android (HTC Explorer) and recent BlackBerry OS. Mr.Sridhar of Akruti talked about the path that has been covered in last two decades in this field.
I myself talked on the need for educating and awareness building amongst the users & stakeholders on the possibility & business potential of enabling the Devices, OS and Apps for Indian Languages. India only has 5% of its population (say 40 Million of the 800 Million Mobile users) who know to read & write English, what about the 95% they are not using SMS or even Address book?. There is an urgent need for the industry to educate the users that using Mobile doesn’t mean learning English & poor communication. I have seen that most of the time the Device OEM’s Engineering & Head Office (say in US, Europe, Japan or Taiwan) is ready to do Indian Languages (when they do tens of languages worldwide this is routine to them), it is the Indian Marketing & Operations office that throws the spanner. They sit in their glass offices in Gurgaon & Bangalore and think everyone in India speaks English including Drivers, Maids, Cooks & Factory workers. By doing this they are not only killing our languages (but most of Indian Languages are classical languages surviving over thousands of years of external invasion), but also depriving the productivity & economic advantage that better communication through Mobile enables for common man (Aam Aadmi).
There is no cost reasoning today for not doing Indian Language support today in Mobile Devices (it costs less than 50 US cents per device and falls to zero when you go to millions of units). Today Indian Languages is supported in major Mobile OSes – iOS (Display & input through Apps), Android through OEM software from HTC or Samsung has full support and Blackberry through add-on install. Even Nokia Symbian OS has support enabled in their lost cost devices. Only Microsoft Windows Phone 7.x doesn’t have any kind of Indian Language support, it is sad because Microsoft was the first major OS vendor in PCs to fully support many of the Indian Languages way back from Windows 2000. Hopefully the next version of Windows Phone (WP8) having an unified Kernel with Desktop Windows (Disclaimer: Nothing official yet from Microsoft, but rumoured here) will start supporting Indian Languages.
Finally if the stakeholders can’t be convinced it is time for Parliament (and not individual State Assemblies) to come with laws requiring Indian Language support across the eco-system (Operator, SMS, Devices, OS & Apps) – *YES I said this, which is rare for someone like me who prefers lean and small Government & Compact Laws*.
இன்று கணித்தமிழ் சங்கம் தனது மாதக்கூட்டத்தை எங்கள் அலுவலகத்தில் (விஷ்வக் ஸொல்யுஷண்ஸில்) நடத்தியது. கூட்டத்தில் தே.மு.தி.க சட்டமன்ற உறுப்பினரும், மாஃபாய் நிறுவனருமான திரு.கே.பாண்டியராஜன் சிறப்புரையாற்றினார். தமிழக மாணவர்களிடம் கணினி தேர்ச்சியின் அவசியத்தை சிறப்பாக எடுத்துரைத்தார். உறுப்பினரின் பலப்பல கேள்விகளுக்கு அழகாகவும் பொறுமையோடும் பதிலளித்தார். அவருக்கு நன்றிகள்.
Having not seen any new successful product announcements from Google for last year or so I was feeling Google is losing its magic touch, it is getting bogged down by its own size and return of Larry Page is going to do little to change course. When I make the previous comment, I am not counting Android or Google Chrome announcements made me in recent Google I/O – those are enhancements, what I am talking is fundamental innovation. But today something happened that made pause this thought for a while and give credit to Google for its basic computer science research and its leadership position. It is the release of support in Google Translate for 5 Indic Languages including my mother tongue “Tamil”.
Though many research labs with their computer scientists & linguists both in India & outside are working on this for more than last 3 decades, having a publicly accessible Tamil translator has always remained a dream. I have personally met many of these great minds during the INFITT Tamil Internet conferences, but unfortunately they were all few critical steps away from completing their great work due to resource constraints. Many of these projects were also happening in silos – Private firms research arms, Government funded academic labs, Universities Linguistic departments and so on.
Though it is in Alpha stage and is far from perfect, it is a big day for all Tamilians. What Google has released today at Translate.Google.com is two-way translation (To Tamil & From Tamil) :
1. English (and other languages) to Tamil: The “Tamil” only speakers of Tamil Nadu & around the world can now access and enjoy the vast majority of World Wide Web without being hampered by not having English proficiency.
2. Tamil to English (and other languages): The entire world can now enjoy the timeless treasures in Tamil literature and written by Tamil poets.
With the arrival of a new Government, Tamil Nadu got its new IT Secretary – it was Dr.Santosh Babu, IAS. Fortunately continuity was maintained as Dr.Santosh was earlier Managing Director of ELCOT and worked in the same department under previous IT Secretary Mr.P.W.C.Davidar. Dr.Santosh is a fine gentleman and one who is passionate about technology and its impact on E-Governance and Citizen Services, he has many pioneering E-Governance projects in the country to his credit. I had the privilege of working with Dr.Santosh Babu, Mr.P.W.C.Davidar and his whole team during the Tamil Internet Conference last year in Coimbatore which ran inside the Chemmozhi conference. Today few of us from local IT community went and congratulated Dr.Santosh Babu on his new assignment. All the best to him and his department.
(Seen Above – Dr.Santosh Babu, Mr.Anto Peter, Mr.Anandan, Dr.Arul Natarajan, T.N.C.Venkata Rangan, Mr.Paul, Mr.Benny)
Today in my Yoga class my Yoga teacher approached me with a problem. He is writing some Sanskrit slogas with Latin Characters in MS Word and he is not able to get the diacritic marks, like the apostrophe or dashes on top of a English letter or below a letter. An example is below of what he is trying from an old Yoga textbook:
Coming home I contacted my good friend Murasu Muthu Nedumaran, an expert calligrapher who instantly pointed me to the answer. The trick is to use what are called as Combining Marks in Unicode. Below are the options on how to do it.
Option 1: In MS Word first type the base character you want say “A’” then select the Insert Symbol dialog. Select font as say Arial and then in the Subset drop-down Combining Diacritical Marks. Choose the mark you are interested in, you can also use the Shortcut Key to assign key shortcuts for faster input everytime.
Option 2: If you want to input the diacritic marks in applications other than MS Word, you can use the input “Character Map” applet in Windows 7 (Vista or XP). Just type Character map in Start->Run to run the applet. In the applet, select Advanced View, Character set as Unicode. Then scroll down near U+0320 location and you will find the combining marks.
Option 3: If you want to input only Accents, MS Word has in-built shortcuts like Ctrl + ~, then Shift+A to get À. A full table of these shortcuts are here.