Bangla in GNU/Linux : making the Penguin speak in Bengali
The need to localize
In a Sourceforge article on localization, Prof. Venkatesh Hariharan makes a pertinent comment - “The localisation of Linux to Indian languages can spark off a revolution that reaches down to the grassroots levels of the country”
The problem faced in harnessing the power of ICT(information & communication technologies) in India is that all such enabling software is in English - a language that a mere 10-15% of the population is proficient in. The dialogs, menus, interfaces are in English as is the documentation.Although such a scenario is desirable and advantageous to the point that it establishes a ‘lingua franca’, in case of countries like India and Bangladesh the situation leads to ‘technological poverty’.
To bridge the digital divide by taking technology to the masses, one of the important aspects of the Free Software and Open Source Software movements has been taking GNU/Linux OS and adapting it to the local cultural nuances. Localization is a national level collaborative effort to “Indianize” software and make culture an integral part of the computing experience. Locale handles the cultural conventions as for example the formatting of date and time, the representation of numbers, the symbols for currency etc. The glibc package currently possesses both bn_IN and bn_BD (for India and Bangladesh respectively)
Bangla (or Bengali) is one of the most important languages in the world in terms of the number of users. The language possesses a well-established phonetic script and the Unicode range for Bangla Characters is from 0980 to 09FF. However, Indic scripts are notoriously difficult to add support to due to the existence of conjuncts (’yuktakshars’) and non-standard spellings.
Thus, one of the major difficulties in localizing GNU/Linux in Bangla is also the absence of suitable font (font sets). Unicode represents Bengali text as a sequence of Bengali characters. Unlike most European scripts, just rendering these characters is not enough for Bengali (and other Indic scripts); it is necessary to form new glyphs by combining several characters.
Until recently, there was no accepted standard that described it completely. This has been addressed in the extension to the TrueType font format known as Open Type (along with some rules in Unicode for reordering the characters before combining them).
A description of the parts of the specification relevant to Indic scripts is available through Microsoft’s typography site Under the Windows operating system, Internet Explorer uses the Uniscribe layout engine to render open type features. Recent versions of Windows, e.g. Windows 2000 or XP, ship with the required version, and installing a recent version of Internet Explorer is usually sufficient for older versions.