A myriad of choices in Burmese typing

The first Burmese font was created in 1988 for Macintosh. Four years later, Zaw Htut and Thet Ko Ko created the first Burmese font compatible with the Windows OS. Since then, a variety of input methods have sprung up, as well encodings. I, myself, am unsure of which encoding will become dominant in the future.

First, there’s the ASCII encoding found on most Burmese webpages (e.g., The Myanmar Times website) and uses the Latin alphabet, with each Latin letter corresponding to a Burmese letter or diacritic. However, if the proper font is not installed, the website appears as a series of incomprehensible letters and numbers:

“jrefrm&[ef;awmfwpfyg; ta&SU tv,fydkif;odkY yxrqkH; <ujref; cGifh&”, legible only on Internet Explorer, is “sample11.png” (“First ever Burmese monk granted permission to travel to Middle East”)

Next, there’s the partial or incomplete Unicode encoding (e.g., Planet Myanmar website), which is becoming popular in newer websites and appears to be the encoding of choice for many Burmese bloggers. This system does not use smart encoding and is cumbersome, because each combination of diacritics (like sample2.png and stacked consonants like sample3.png) must be typed separately from uncombined diacritics (ha-hto, ya-pin, ya-yit, etc.), which goes against intuition.

Then there’s the complete Unicode encoding (e.g., MyMyanmar website), which cuts down on time but requires a more updated computer. In complete Unicode, diacritics can be combined automatically by the font, reducing typing time. However, because this encoding is relatively unused and requires more advanced computers, they are unfavored. A Burmese Unicode font, Padauk requires a special Graphite engine to properly combine letters. However, there’s a flaw in these systems. They do not properly display the spellings of all possible Burmese word combos. For example, sample5.png (nyein) appears as sample4.png.

In addition to this, a more advanced Unicode encoding (e.g., Thanlwin Soft website) is available in Burmese and incorporates changes by the official Unicode standard. But this is new complete Unicode encoding is incompatible with the traditional complete Unicode encoding and only compatible on computers with Windows XP SP2 installed.

And finally, there’s the old-fashioned image encoding (e.g., People magazine website), where Burmese text is plastered onto images. It’s compatible with all browsers, all systems and only load times are an issue.

As for me, I am not certain of which encoding to use. Hence, from now one, I will stick to image-based Burmese text on this blog until a unified and coherent system that has been widely adopted is available. It’s unfortunate that Burmese users have to choose among a variety of systems and that many input methods and systems exist surely discourage new computer users from trying it out–my mother, for one, prefers writing to typing because she doesn’t need to know the many keystrokes of typing in Burmese while writing.

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