LIFE

Malayalam alphabets meet their cyber match

The new font.

The new font.  

Those self-declared champions of Malayalam can breath easy. One thing the cyber Malayali population expected them to do at least a decade ago has been done, quite impressively so, by a group of students in a college in Thiruvalla.

The MACFAST Malayalam Keyboard Interface and Unicode fonts developed by these MCA students in Mar Athanasios College for Advanced Studies is easy to use, compatible with popular computer applications and can be downloaded free!

These enthusiastic bunch of young men and women have not only beaten champions of Malayalam at their own game but also have taken the literacy revolution a step forward. Their efforts will certainly transform the way Malayalis use the computer.

The application (freely downloadable from macfast.ac.in or macfast.org) provides an interface, which enables Windows/GNU-Linux user to type Malayalam in a comfortable way. Users can switch between English and Malayalam keyboard layout and make the until now tedious task of typing Malayalam using normal keyboard. Combinations keys are gone and fewer keystrokes are the newest feature. Mixed characters and phonemes come easy.

"Ours is an endeavour to retrieve those alphabets which were lost in the typewriter mapping of Malayalam alphabets," says the Director of the MCA programme Ignatius Kunjumon. When he says lost Malayalam alphabets, he means even the old Malayalam numbers.

Three versions are available on the MACFAST website: Windows (Unicode), Windows (ASCII) and GNU-Linux.

The application was tested successfully on MS-Word XP, MS-Excel XP, MS-PowerPoint XP, MS-Frontpage XP, MS-Outlook XP, Outlook Express6, MSN Messenger 6.2, Internet Explorer6 and Opera7.51. The new development provides easy hand movements and phonetically coupled letters dumping the practice of combination keys for typing Malayalam.

Although the first versions are out, the College has called for suggestions from the people who use the new interface so that it can be improved upon. The improved version will be out December 2004.

The keyboard interface was developed as part of the project work for the final semester of the MCA programme and Mr. Kunjumon is more than happy that all his students were involved in the project. If they burnt the midnight oil, it is certainly for a great cause, he says.

By K. A. Martin

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