Monday, November 29, 2004

Unicode and Macs

Following on from my Unicode Lament, Ken Ristau comments (but please use the "Comments" facility and not this, "Old Comments" facility, which is there to keep the older Haloscan comments alive and will be dropped in due course) and Jim Davila emails to point out the problem re. unicode and the Mac. I am afraid that I am ignorant about Macs, but what I do know is that whenever I mention them here I get an avalanche of comments and emails, so I wonder if anyone is able to answer the question about unicode and Macs. If there is a significant problem with using unicode on Macs, I will agree that we should not all be quite so hasty in changing to unicode, and we'll have to stick around with SPIonic for a bit longer, but I'll bet that there is a good answer. Anyone?


AKMA said...

I don’t use MS Word, but I believe I recall that only the most recent version of Word for Macs can use Unicode. I use Mellel, a very agreeable, non-bloated word processor expressly built with multi-language support a high priority.

There’s no systemic problem with Unicode for OS X users, a large and growing proportion of Mac users, since OS X supports Unicode natively (and Safari and Firefox both support Unicode). Unicode will be a problem for legacy users on any platform, but since it is and will be a standard, we all need to begin pressing forward in that direction. Efforts that we devote to backward-compatibility now, will very soon be wasted as the legacy systems dwindle in importance.

Tim Bulkeley said...

Blogger comments are working again, so here goes!

Rodney Decker has a good page of Info on unicode for biblical scholars suggests that Word on MacX will work. In any case all but the oldest browsers will display unicode on Macs. That the old SP fonts don't "do" rtl is only part of the problem, the bigger issue for most writers is that files sent elsewhere simply don't work in either Henrew or Greek (not to mention Syriac, Amharic etc.) unless some strange non-standard font is installed at both ends. Unicode fonts are free, available and ALREADY INSTALLED on a high proportion of new computers (and even many old ones).

BUT, if you can make SPWhatever fonts work for you, fine, but please don't be like 9/10 biblical scholars and expect others to pick up the pieces!

Tim Bulkeley said...

PS Alan Wood also has info on Mac OS9 wordprocessors etc. at

John McChesney-Young said...

Patrick Rourke, author of the Unicode Polytonic Greek page at Stoa (not updated for about two years due to lack of time, to his own great distress), wrote me that he's quite pleased with the Greek Unicode capabilities of Word 2004 for Mac. He noted (as have others) that it doesn't support RTL processing and added that it might not have the shaping support needed for Arabic and Indic languages.

Although Mellel seems to be the most popular choice for Mac Unicode word processing, especially for RTL, about a year ago I had a minor font-specific problem with some combining characters (macron & y, to be precise, and only in some fonts). The developer told me he was planning to fix it but that the fix was rather far down the list of projects; the problem may have been solved by now, several minor updates down the line.

Another WP program that might be worth looking into is Nisus Writer Express, which is also Unicode-compliant and which with version 2 has added back some of the sorely-missed features it lost in the original transition from OS 9 to OS X.

Finally, the adventurous might consider XeTeX, a Unicode-based implementation of the TeX typesetting engine for Mac OS 10.3 developed by Jonathan Kew of SIL. Although documentation is on the scanty side and the program is very much still in development, there's a very active and helpful mailing list.


Joe Weaks said...

Right. At this point, the current OS X version is the most unicode savvy OS in business. For clarity's sake, the problem is with Microsoft's going back on a promise to and oddly refusing grant money to ensure that RtL and Hebrew in particular made it into the newly released version of Word. But, I have been using polytonic Greek in Word, creating my own keyboard layouts, etc. with great ease.