Make sure you don’t get left behind in move to Unicode

Local online users have recently been discussing the planned change on October 1 from the long-used Zawgyi computer font to a unified font conforming to the international standard called Unicode.

The government has told mobile service providers, media and content producers, and the tech community to prepare for the adoption of Unicode. All government agencies had already migrated to Unicode, in April.

While the change is expected to expand communications and enable greater compatibility with the rest of the world, the process of switching to the new system is expected to bring teething problems and technological challenges.

Among the expected difficulties in making the switch will be typing on computers. Also, mobile phone users may have some problems, as there is such a wide variety of handsets.

Most popular mobile apps only support the Zawgyi font, so users may be unable to see text correctly after the Unicode conversion.

The Zawgyi font will not be supported for information sent by telecoms, search engines like Google, and social media. So those who rely on these apps will have difficulties if they do not change to Unicode.

Making the change

Some apps support communications and collaboration between users who live in different parts of the world and use different languages. Unicode is an international encoding standard for use with different languages and scripts that enables worldwide communication.

Under Unicode, each letter, digit, or symbol is assigned a unique numeric value that applies across different platforms and programmes. Unicode has many keyboards and 100 fonts for the Myanmar language.

Although Myanmar arranged to start using Unicode in 1999, delays in the country’s technological development have impeded its adoption until now. Standard Myanmar Unicode fonts were never mainstreamed, unlike the private and partially Unicode compliant Zawgyi font.

Under international sanctions, native Myanmar language support in Windows computers was not available. The easiest fix was to manually install the free Zawgyi fonts and keyboards.

Zawgyi was invented locally in 2006 to accommodate the need for computer communication in Myanmar. This coincided with the rising popularity of the internet in the late 2000s, and allowed people to communicate and publish content over the web.

When Facebook became popular in 2010, Zawgyi was naturally chosen as the default font.

Even after a Unicode Myanmar text was developed to support Windows and the Mac OS, many users still preferred the Zawgyi font and keyboard on their computers. For mobile phone users, while earlier Android and iOS versions came with a built-in native Unicode font to read Myanmar text, they lacked a Myanmar keyboard, according to a report from Rising Voices, a project of the Global Voices NGO.

Thus, Zawgyi remains the unofficial digital font used by Myanmar people.

Need for standardised font

However, the need for a standardised digital font has come to the fore. Without a transition to Unicode now, as difficult as that may be, the problems may become worse in the future, especially if the country wants to transition to an e-government system.

Unified and standard language encoding, and data storage and access, will make possible effective implementation of an e-government system.

U Tun Thura Thet, chair of the Myanmar Computer Federation, said, “It will take concerted efforts by the authorities and users to make the change, but within two months, everything will be OK. The key is for the whole country to make the change at the same time. Those who do not change will be left behind.”

Laos and Cambodia changed to Unicode a few years ago, so Myanmar is the last country in ASEAN to make the switch.

Using Unicode requires handwriting, so it will help correct spelling and sentence structure, as well as enable the correct use of Google Map and Google Translate features.

The Myanmar language will be featured automatically in global software, searching data in the Myanmar language will be more accurate, and the automatic translation system will be more accurate.

Unicode will enable a command system and voice system in the Myanmar language.

“Text processing requires understanding the text being processed, which depends on character encoding. Unicode provides a solid foundation for processing every text worldwide, while non-Unicode encoding requires separate implementation for each one and supports only a limited number of languages. Using Unicode consistently makes it easier to share text processing software around the world,” according to a news release by Telenor.

After the transition to Unicode, a standardised digital font for the Myanmar language can be used to classify information and works, so government information, such as voter lists and economic statistics, will be more reliable.

If Myanmar does not transition now to this global standard, despite individual inconveniences, the country would fall behind at a time when the rest of the world is digitising and preparing for 5G.

Everyone needs to cooperate for a smooth transition to Unicode. Tech companies here have shown their support for the shift. Facebook has said it will help by automatically converting the two fonts so that users can see each other’s texts without noticing a difference. Huawei has said it will set up a hotline to support the migration.

The Myanmar Computer Federation has set up a Unicode migration website, hotline and Facebook page.

Source: Myanmar Times

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