On data encoding and complex text shaping

As part of the historical move of Janayugom news paper migrating into a completely libre software based workflow, Kerala Media Academy organized a summit on self-reliant publishing on 31-Oct-2019. I was invited to speak about Malayalam Unicode fonts.

The summit was inaugurated by Fahad Al-Saidi of the Scribus fame, who was instrumental in implementing complex text layout (CTL). Prior to the talks, I got to meet the team who made it possible to switch Janayogom’s entire publishing process on to free software platform — Kubuntu based ThengOS, Scribus for page layout, Inkspace for vector graphics, GIMP for raster graphics, CMYK color profiling for print, new Malayalam Unicode fonts with traditional orthography etc. It was impressive to see that entire production fleet was transformed, team was trained and the news paper is printed every day without delay.

I also met Fahad later and pleasantly surprised to realize that he already knows me from open source contributions. We had a productive discussion about Scribus.

My talk was on data encoding and text shaping in Unicode Malayalam. The publishing industry in Malayalam is at large still trapped in ASCII which causes numerous issues now, and many are still not aware of Unicode and its advantages. I tried to address that in my presentation with examples — so the preface of my talk filled half of the session; while the second half focused on font shaping. Many in the industry seems to be aware of Unicode and traditional Malayalam orthography can be used in computers now; but many in the academia still has not realized it — evident from the talk of the moderator of the discussion, who is director of the school of Indian languages. There was a lively discussion with the audience in the Q&A session. After the talk, a number of people gave me feedback and requested the slides be made available.

Slides on data encoding and complex text shaping are available under CC-BY-NC license here.

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