Standard Khmer Script Made for Computers

Few may know it, but a milestone in the development of Cam­bo­dia was passed last month, said Pan So­ra­sak, a Council of Minis­ters undersecretary of state and the vice chair of the National Com­mit­tee for Standardization of Khmer Script in Computers.

After more than two years of work, the committee has created a standard Khmer script for computing that experts say will open a world of new possibilities for Khmer-language applications.

The committee has been working with Microsoft Corp to get the new standard integrated into the next version of Microsoft Of­fice, which includes popular software for Web browsing, e-mail, word processing and Web de­sign, Pan So­ra­sak said.

With these programs, he said, any­­one will be able to write a document, e-mail or Web page that can be read correctly on any new Windows-based computer. He expects to see it on store shelves sometime next year.

Macintosh compatibility is still in the works, Pan Sorasak said.

A standard script makes it possible for the first time to create programs that can correctly format the multiple layers of Khmer lettering, said Pan Sorasak.

In the new programs, he said, cha­r­­acters can be typed in the or­der in which they are naturally writ­ten and will be automatically for­matted. The standard in­cludes all Khmer characters, in­cluding those used in ancient Khmer script and in astrology and divination.

To test the new software under everyday conditions, the committee last month installed beta versions of it in the offices of the Coun­cil of Ministers and the Cam­bo­dian Royal Academy, ac­co­rd­ing to a press release.

The next step, Pan Sorasak hopes, will be to encourage pro­gra­m­­mers to develop open-source, or freely available, routines for simple tasks like text searches, which are very important for In­ter­net compatibility.

Pan Sorasak believes computers and the Internet can become im­­portant tools for education and public awareness in Cambodia.

But the fact that the vast majority of Web sites available are in Eng­lish means for that to happen, Cambodians need to begin developing their own Khmer-language Web sites, he said.

For Web publishing to become wides­pread, it is important to be able to write in the language easily, and have the results be widely read­­able and searchable.

The implementation of the new stand­ard will have a downside for some business people who have been making money off of its ab­sence, said Richard Mc­Don­ough, head of Phnom Penh advertising agency Design Group Cambodia Co Ltd.

His company had found a way to design Khmer Web pages that could be read clearly from any Windows-platform Web browser, he said.

The other obstacle Cambodia fa­ces in de­­­veloping its own Inter­net com­mun­ity is the relative scar­city and ex­pense of connecting to the Internet, McDonough said.

Once technology for surfing the In­ternet over a mobile phone be­comes available, he said, he ex­pects the market to take off.

A press release from the standardization committee last month mentioned Khmer mobile interfa­ces as one of their next projects.

The standard script is part of a sys­tem called Unicode, which is es­tablished and monitored by a con­sortium of experts and major com­puter companies, and is part of nearly every computer and program made.

Unicode, Pan Sorasak ex­plained, is not a font.

“A font is a pic­­­ture, an image of a script,” he said. “There are thousands of fonts.”

Uni­­code is the system by which characters are translated into fonts from the machine language com­­puters use to store and transfer information.

Khmer script has been incorporated into Unicode 4.0.

Making Unicode 4.0 was difficult because of the necessity to re­vi­se the previous standard, said Pen Sorasak. When the Unicode standard was first being developed in the 1980s, Cambodia was still torn by fighting, and foreign de­­sign­ers created a Khmer character set for Unicode without in­put from any Cambodian auth­ority.

“It’s completely wrong,” he said.

In the absence of a workable standard, many different Khmer-character fonts and writing utilities have appeared on the Inter­net; how­­­ever, they have many de­fects, the chief being that for two users to share files, both must have found and downloaded the exact same font or program, or else the script will appear as gibberish.

“That’s the most important thing, is sharing information,” said Pan Sorasak. “This is the beginning of the whole history of Cam­bo­dia in the Internet era.”

Information about Unicode 4.0 can be found in English at: www.



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