The Arabic Macintosh

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  • An introduction to writing Arabic on the Mac

    The following is an attempt to answer questions like "how can I write Arabic on my Macintosh", "how do I get hold of good software for Arabic", and "why doesn't it work like it is supposed to?". It is thus in the format of a "Frequently Answered Questions" ("FAQ"), and I have divided it into two sections:

    Part I. How do I get going?

    Part II: My trusted old Mac just broke down and they shoved a new one under my nose, so:

    Can I write in Arabic on my Macintosh, and is it expensive?

    Yes and not at all respectively. The "Yes" comes on two conditions:

    * That you have "activated" the Arabic keyboard layout.
    * That you use programs which can make use of Arabic

    The first condition is pretty straightforward. It means to make a trip to the settings in System Preferences: Even if Arabic is installed on all Macs, most users will of course not need or want access to it, so you have tell your computer that you are one who does.

    The second condition, however, requires a little more care: Not all software that you can put on your Mac is able to handle Arabic text. Unfortunately, that includes the most common word processor of all, Microsoft Word, which for many users is synonymous with word processing. But not for Arabic (or at least not properly). You must therefore, for Arabic purposes, use a program that does work with Arabic text. That can be a "Word equivalent" as the free program OpenOffice, Apple's own word processor, Pages, other commercial programs like NisusWriter, or one of many others. There is much to choose from, but Microsoft is not helpful on the Mac where Arabic is concerned. (Happily, the web is an Arabic-friendly zone, pretty much every available web browser displays Arabic web pages automatically).

    In spite of this, we should not be confused: The Arabic capabilities do not reside in any particular program, they are generic to your computer itself. It is just that those bad programs are not able to avail themselves of the Arabic resources that the Mac provides (Arabic fonts, right-to-left writing, character combinations, etc.).
    It has to do with saving money, of course; for programs to work with Arabic, they cannot "assume" that the text runs rightwards, or that an indentation should be from the left margin, etc., and the programmers have to take this into account in each program. Many companies cannot be bothered. However, more and more do, so it is mostly a matter of avoiding those that do not. All the stuff that Apple has pre-installed on your Mac (Address Book, Mail, TextEdit, iCal, etc.) does however work fine with Arabic.

    But the menus and everything turn into Arabic?

    No, generally not. On computers bought in the West, Arabic is normally just an extra language that is added to the English or European system. If you look in System Preferences : Language and Text (or International), you will see an option to set Arabic as your main language, to be displayed in menus and dialog boxes of the system and programs. But that would require that the program has Arabic menus to be displayed. In fact, I have not seen any program that has that, nor does the Finder or any Apple program, so this is not actually implemented (although a few programs for the Arabic market may have translated their own menus into Arabic). Consider Arabic an added capability to your basically English / European Mac.

    I just learned the Arabic letters last week, so bear with me; it writes from right to left, right?

    That is the point, yes. If you have never written Arabic on a computer before (new student!), these are the basic features which all workable programs share:

  • Automatic context analysis: There is only one key for Arabic "b". The system automatically selects whether the isolate, initial, medial or final form of "b" is appropriate, and changes this if you e.g. add another character afterwards. Notice that only the letter value "b" is stored on disk, not the form: this is only selected dynamically on display.

  • Of course the writing direction switches automatically to go from the right when you write in Arabic. You switch to Arabic typing by choosing Arabic from a "keyboards" menu (or by pressing Command-Spacebar); the writing direction switches to right-to-left and an Arabic font is automatically chosen.
    You can combine English and Arabic on any line, when you switch to English in an Arabic text, the writing direction changes automatically. It looks funny the first time you see it, but it works correctly, also if there is a line break in the middle of the "other" language. The program should also switch tabs and indents to run from right rather than the left, some also mirror the complete document (page by page).

  • Different fonts, of course. You have already installed six Arabic fonts on your Mac, you can add others, both headline, text and fancy fonts. There are literally hundreds of free Arabic fonts on the Internet which you can easily install on your Mac (download and double-click), if you have professional needs you can purchase further commercial fonts. Most fonts have the basic Persian characters in addition to Arabic, some have a wider variety of Arabic-based characters such as Urdu, Pashto or others.

  • Ligatures. Some combinations of characters are given particular joint shapes (e.g. lam-mim and mim-mim are stacked vertically). It depends on the font how many ligatures are available. The selection of shapes may not be perfect -- many fonts lack e.g. the "dagger alif" and wasla (but many also include them, see the Fonts page), but with the proliferation of fonts, you should always find one that fits your needs.

  • Numbers are inserted in the correct order; i.e. if you type 1952 (typing 1 first and 2 last), the numbers will display in this order, left to right, even within an Arabic text (as they should).

  • How do I get started with Arabic?

    If all you want to do is e.g. to read Arabic web pages, you need not do anything. All existing browsers, including the Safari program on your Mac, displays Arabic text automatically. (*)

    If you want to write in Arabic, you must however activate a "keyboard layout", which makes your keyboard produce Arabic characters rather than the English a-b-c. You do this by going to "System Preferences : Language and Text" (older Macs: International) and click on Input Menu ("Keyboard menu").

    There you will see a long list of keyboard layouts; scroll down until you find Arabic and check the check box beside it, then close the window.

    You will now see a "flag" or "keyboards" menu to the menu bar, with Arabic listed as an option below your national language. Choose it when you want to type Arabic, and suddenly the "a" key will give you a shin.

    While you are at it in the "Language and Text" window, go to the Language section. You see that Arabic is not listed in the short list there. Click on Edit list..., then scroll down to "Arabic" and check it there too (‘Arabi will then appear at the top of the short list, move it below your preferred first language). This has no immediate effect, but allows access to certain Arabic resources in some programs, like Mail.

    (*) If Safari's Arabic appears to be broken, check here.  

    What about the keyboard? Where do I get an Arabic keyboard?

    You don't need a particular Arabic piece of plastic in front of your Mac. The physical keyboard is exactly the same whether English or Arabic characters are painted onto the keys - the electronics inside are identical. When we talk of "keyboards" or "keyboard layouts" we are just talking about software inside the Mac: These are commands that tell the computer that when I press the left-most key on the middle row, it should produce an a - if it is English - or a shin - if it is Arabic. You can even find a funny "Arabic transliterated" layout, which will produce an Arabic alif when the leftmost key on the middle row [the "a" key] is pressed. The regular Arabic keyboard layout, however, follows more or less the established Arabic typewriter standard for what keys produce what characters.

    Of course, if you do not touch-type in Arabic, you are typing more or less blindly until you get so used to this set-up that you remember that the middle row runs shin-sin-ya'-ba' etc., and you may have to take a number of trips to the Keyboard Viewer menu to see where to type (Go to Open International... in the flag menu, and then check "Keyboard Viewer", it is then added to the flag menu).
    The "transliterated" keyboard layout is called "Arabic QWERTY", and tries to follow the English keyboard: if you press the English "a" key, you get alif, "b" give ba', etc. It still requires some learning of where the emphatics and hamza etc. are, but it may be quicker to learn than the standard, unless you are familiar with that. There is also a Persian, as well as Pashto, Arabic-Uzbek, Uighur and other keyboards. (For Urdu, check the Urdu on the Mac page.)

    There also exist some acetate sheets with the Arabic letters printed on them that you can glue to the keys of your physical US keyboard to help you see what to type, some addresses for such are Bilingual keyboard lables and Mac Arabic keyboard stickers (not tested by me, so buyer beware. Or you can help yourself with sellotape).

    Normally, you switch between keyboard layouts (Arabic-English) by pressing Command and Spacebar together. In one system version (10.4, Macs bought between 2005-2007), the "Spotlight" search uses the same keyboard shortcut. If you have a Mac of that type, you should probably go to "Keyboard Shortcuts" [in System Preferences: "Keyboard & Mouse"] and uncheck the shortcut for Spotlight and check both "select" options under Input Menu; as an Arabic user you will be switching to or from Arabic more often. On current Macs (10.5 or higher, from 2008 on) this is corrected, so you do not need to change anything.

    Why do I only see each Arabic character separate in some programs?

    Although your Macintosh has now become Arabized, not all programs are able to display Arabic properly, and not all Arabic fonts work. So, even if Arabic works fine in some programs, you may find that in others there are no Arabic fonts in the Fonts menu (e.g. in Microsoft Word). Or, if you try to type Arabic, you just get European letters. Or, you do actually get Arabic letters, but they run from left to right. Or, they are not joined into words, you just get separate (dis-joined) Arabic characters.

    All of these are symptoms that the program you are using does not support Arabic, or the font is not useful. Each issue is different, some you can get around, others not. In brief,

    - If the Arabic keyboard menu is dimmed (grey), or you do not get Arabic characters when you type using the Arabic keyboard, it means the program does not support "Unicode", meaning most non-European languages are unavailable. This normally also means the program is very old, it is a fairly uncommon situation today.

    - If you cannot see the Arabic fonts (or only "Geeza Pro") in the font list, but you do get Arabic characters when you switch to the Arabic keyboard, it may mean the program has limited support for Arabic. Sometimes, that is close enough so you can use it, often by installing other fonts (see the fonts page), which it will accept. But in many cases, you cannot select a word by double-clicking (it selects the wrong word), or the line breaks up if you try to make changes. Here each program is different, but such programs are at best of limited use for Arabists.

    - If Arabic seems to work, except that the characters do not combine into words (they appear in isolate form), check which font is used. The program may be OK, but not the font. There are many (non-Mac) fonts that contain Arabic letters, but not the information the Mac uses to join them up in the correct shapes. This can e.g. happen on some Macs with the font Times New Roman, which Windows users often have as their standard font even for Arabic. If text in this font contains Arabic, it will in older versions appear as disjointed letters. Change the font of that text to a regular Arabic font, and the text may then join up properly (unless, of course, there are other issues also at large). In most cases, Times New Roman's Arabic characters will work fine on current Macs (system 10.5+, that is newer than 2007).

    It is rare now to find a current program that does not have any Unicode support at all (although they do exist), but there are still quite a few programs, both large and famous as well as small and dedicated, that do not allow Arabic to function properly for one reason or another. Often, the larger and more complex programs, as well as the programs that have more advanced text editing features (such as desktop publishing) have more things that can go wrong with Arabic, while smaller programs often work fine. However, overall a quick survey of existing text editing and word processing programs shows that "OK" programs outnumber problematic ones by two to one or more.

    What about Arabic on the net, in email and web pages?

    Today, it is almost unthinkable to come across an Arabic web page that does not show up correctly in your browser. It is taken so for granted that the question does not even arise. That in fact, shows the power of standardization, as it was a big problem in the 1990s and even well after 2000. Today, both those who make and those who read Arabic web pages regularly follow a common standard for Arabic text ("Unicode") so that Arabic displays as intended whatever computer you use. If, however, you happen to come across an old Arabic web page where the script does not appear correctly, most browsers have an option called "Character Set" or "Encoding", using this (and choosing e.g. "Arabic (Windows)" or similar) will most often correct the error the page made.

    The same mostly goes for email, although there is some old email software around that does not handle Arabic. But real Arabic (not "pictures") is more and more used without problem today. With some exceptions, you can assume that both your software and that of the recipient adhere to the standard, so that emailing in Arabic is as unproblematic as in English. The most notable remaining problem is mailing lists, sometimes the programs that run these cannot handle Arabic, or refuse to do so in deference to readers whose email programs still have problems with such email. (Also, non-western email is often sent in the "html" format, and some mailing lists refuse to accept html postings.)

    By and large, however, the Internet has become an Arabic-friendly zone for Mac users just as well as for other computer systems.

  • (There is a survey of email programs as well as of programs for making web pages and their Arabic handling on the "Programs" page)

    What programs do work for Arabic then?

    You will find more details on this on the separate pages linked below. But the lowdown is:

    - Apple's own free programs, TextEdit, Mail, Safari, etc. are fine (but not its commercial "iWork")

    - All web browsers are fine.

    - Not really in Microsoft Word for Mac (although you can partly trick it). Some major word processors that do work well with Arabic are Pages (in the AppStore), NisusWriter Pro and Mellel, neither very expensive, as well as the larger "integrated programs" OpenOffice and NeoOffice, both free. Also, most smaller word processors or "text editors" that you can download for free or for a small "shareware" price work well with Arabic.

    - In some other program cateories, like page layout, database and graphics, if the large "standard" programs do not support Arabic, they may have "Middle Eastern" variants that specialize in right-to-left languages. Unfortunately, these often come with a hefty price tag. There are however in most cases smaller and less expensive alternatives, some with good support for Arabic, others more basic. As problematic programs are updated, more and more also add Unicode and Arabic support.

    - As for fonts, you may want to install more than the ones that come pre-installed. There are almost a hundred free Arabic fonts on the Net for use on any Mac, with most recent Mac systems you can add another 300 for free, and yet more if you want to buy commercial fonts.

    Part II: I had to get a new Mac. What is new for Arabic?

    What do I have to do to keep working in Arabic?

    If you had a Mac from, say, the 1990s, which you used for Arabic, e.g. in NisusWriter, and now have had to replace it, you will find many changes have occured. You can of course still use Arabic, but there are some issues involved.

    Your Mac today runs the operating system called "OS X" ("Operating System Ten", introduced in 2001). If your trusty old Mac has been running from the 1990s (or you have taken a break on that other type of computer in the meantime), you will quickly notice that menus and stuff now look different. Not just different, your old programs, such as NisusWriter or WinText will not work under OS X at all. For some years, we could still use these older programs in something called the "Classic environment", and if your last Mac was from the early 2000s, it is quite likely you continued to use good 1990s software on your Mac, in this way. But if that Mac has also been replaced, then you will know that this option no longer exists; in fact, Macs of today cannot run software older than from about 2005.

    So, when you get your new Mac now, you will most likely face some transition issues, whether your old Mac was from the 1990s or the early 2000s.

    • Installing Arabic is not a problem, as you can see above: All Macs now include Arabic, you just have to make the choice to activate it.

    • But you may have, then, to switch to new programs. Neither WinText nor NisusWriter, the old one, exist under OS X, but the latter has been continued as NisusWriter Pro (same company, new program, it looks and works a bit different than old Nisus). You will find that some old programs have been upgraded, others have not, many new have come, while others that worked with Arabic in OS 9 no longer do in OS X (such as the email program Eudora, e.g., which anyway disappeared totally with OS 10.6).

    • Further, the way the Mac now handles non-European scripts is fundamentally different from before. Your pre-OS X documents have to be converted in some way before you can use them. That may be handled automatically by the software, but you must often be aware of it. It does, however, have an advantage, in that Windows, Unix and other computer systems operate in the same way, so we can now at last exchange Arabic documents with them with no (or little) hassle. This system is called Unicode.

    • Another advantage is that you also have a much wider selection of freeware Arabic fonts, both "academic" fonts that include many non-Arabic 'ajami characters, and decorative fonts of various sorts.

    • On the downside, the change to Unicode has also meant that some things we took for granted are no longer possible, and we must learn some new ways.

    • If you have used fonts for academic transliteration of Arabic or other scripts, there is the same plus and minus: Old fonts may not work, documents may or may not have to be converted, but when you do, they can be exchanged freely with Windows and other users. However, you can often continue using (updates of) the old fonts as well, if you prefer to, so that no conversion is needed.
      More -- Jaghbub users

    We will deal with each issue in greater detail, starting with the most basic one:

    What is that, "Unicode", and how does it relate to typing Arabic?

    Ah. That is a key concept when working with non-European scripts on computers these days. "Unicode" (for "Universal Character Code") is actually just an agreement between computer makers (a standard) that every character in every possible script and language in the world, dead or alive, is given its own particular number. The computers use these numbers to identify the characters, and thus a Mac and Windows machine will agree on what should be displayed as an alif (before, they also used ID numbers, "character sets", but different ones for Mac and Windows). Unicode is actually no more than that, a piece of paper signed by various computer companies and an international standards board, it is not a program you can install on your machine that does something or such. Thus, computers and applications can choose to apply this standard in their software, or not. Today, basically all computers do, but applications may or may not.

    The reason not all do, is that the Unicode standard is based on an assumption: that the computer - and the program - is able to handle large numbers of characters, Unicode gives ID numbers to 65,000 different characters. No individual font will actually contain anywhere near so many characters (I have seen up to 51,000), but the program has to be able to recognize a character with such a high ID number. Old Macs did not; they could only understand character IDs up to 255. Under Unicode, the IDs of the Arabic letters range between number 1,570 and number 1,620. So older applications simply cannot see those characters, they are beyond their horizon.

    The Mac systems OS 9 (and OS 8) could in theory work with Unicode, but hardly any program knew how to deal with it. Arabic and other non-European writing was normally handled differently: While Unicode consists of one single character set, with every character in all languages together in sequential numbers, OS 9 could have many parallel character sets ("scripts"), English, Arabic, Hebrew, but each of them restrained to 256 characters (ID numbers), which was ample for each one. Every font on the Mac was linked to one of these scripts; the regular ones to "Latin", and the Arabic fonts to the "Arabic" script. So, when you chose one of the Arabic fonts, the Mac knew that it should switch to Arabic mode, use the Arabic keyboard layout and starting writing from the right to the left - the font choice determined the computer's behaviour. Thus, a font could be either Arabic or Hebrew, but not both, the font had an unambigiuous identity. This setup was called "WorldScript", and was very practical. But Unicode does not work that way.

    With OS X in 2001, Unicode was built in, and the Mac departed from the WorldScript system of parallel scripts (although some allowance was made for East Asian and Cyrillic, so these were more available than Arabic and Hebrew). Since Unicode includes all scripts into one huge setup, any font can now contain both Chinese and Arabic characters. Thus, the Mac can no longer determine which script behaviour you want just from the font (even if the font actually only contains Arabic characters, it may contain any other as well, so selecting the Arabic keyboard is separate from selecting the font).
    However, even if the OS X system works this way, many of the programs that operate under OS X still do not understand character IDs higher than the old limit, 256. Tolerantly, OS X allows such programs to function, but the consequence is that all non-Western characters in a font become invisible to these programs; they can only "see" characters with IDs below 256. That is why older OS X programs cannot understand Arabic, while newer versions do allow Arabic to be displayed.

    But all Macs with OS X have Arabic, then?

    Today yes; all Macs do Arabic. But historically it is not quite precise, there was a "gap" between 2001 and 2002 when Macs without Arabic were sold, in system versions 10.0 and 10.1. That actually broke off a long line, Arabic has been possible on every Mac since 1988, except for that one year.

    There is a more detailed history of Arabic support on the Mac on the Classic page, but the main milestones were:

    • 1988: First Arabic system for the Mac released (system 4.1)
    • 1993: The "Arabic Language Kit" (for systems 7-8) sold commercially
    • 1999: The Arabic resources again free, as an install option (system 9)
    • 2001: Mac OS X 10.0 released, without Arabic
    • 2002: Basic Arabic included on every Mac, OS 10.2. Improved in 10.3 (2004).
    • 2005: Full "official" Arabic support in OS 10.4
    • 2007: Support also for non-Apple "OpenType" Arabic fonts in OS 10.5

    How can I upgrade my old Arabic documents to OS X?

    As you could see from the Unicode paragraph above, OS X actually defines the Arabic characters completely differently from OS 9, although they may use some of the same fonts. That is why opening an OS 9 or Classic document with Arabic text into an OS X program will often stubbornly display the supposed Arabic in Times, and no selecting an Arabic font for it will help: The OS X program cannot understand that the text was in another, parallel script under OS 9, and only displays the characters according to their ID numbers, which were below 256; i.e. as strange European characters. Arabic from Mac OS 9 must therefore go through some conversion to appear properly in OS X programs.

    Happily, there are ways. If you have an old (2001 to 2007) Mac with OS X and the Classic environment as well as the old program running on your Mac, you can simply copy and paste through the Clipboard: Copy the text while it is displayed in an Arabic font in a window in Classic (e.g. from old Nisus), and paste it into a window in an OS X program that handles Arabic. The Mac has understood that the origin was Arabic, and pastes the correct characters in the Arabic script, and according to Unicode (and thus automatically in an Arabic font, although probably not the same Arabic font you used originally).

    That will not work on current Macs without Classic. There, you must instead tell the modern application that the file you want to open contains old-style Arabic characters and ask it to convert it to modern (Unicode) Arabic. Most word processors let you do this, in slightly different ways:

    NisusWriter (Pro and Express) will, when you open an Arabic file from NisusWriter "Classic", automatically convert and present the Arabic correctly, although again perhaps in a different Arabic font. Such documents preserve most (but not all) of their formatting when opened in NisusWriter.

    Most text programs allow you to import Arabic "text-only" files written in OS 9 (or in Windows or other systems, see below), through a menu in the Open dialogue box called Text encoding or similar. From this menu, choose "Arabic (Mac)", and the Arabic characters appear correctly. If you do this a lot, you can often also set "Arabic (Mac)" as the default choice for opening plain-text files, so that double-clicking a file will automatically convert it from older Mac Arabic to Unicode Arabic (remember then to save it to "Automatic" or Unicode, otherwise it may be saved back to the older system.)

    Generally, this option to "override" the encoding and impose Arabic is only available for plain-text files (without formatting, footnotes, etc.). I have found only one program, Mellel, which also allows it for RTF files, so that you can convert formatted word processing files containing Arabic from Classic. In Mellel, this is under the menu Import: RTF...

    That is only useful if your old Mac files were saved as rtf. However, if you used e.g. Nisus Classic, its standard file format was text-only, so you can generally open old Nisus files in any word processor that has an Encoding menu (TextEdit, Mellel, Jedit, etc.). Footnotes and formatting in such Nisus Classic files are lost, however, unless you open the files in modern NisusWriter.

    As for converting text-only files, some comments:
    - In TextEdit, the Encoding menu appears also when opening RTF files, but has no apparent effect. If you cannot see "Arabic (Mac)" in the encodings list, go to Customize Encodings at the bottom of the list. You can set "Arabic (Mac)" and "Unicode (UTF-8)" as default open/save encodings for text-only files. Then you can just double-click the text file to open and convert and immediately save (Command-S), taking only a second or two per file. To format the converted file, you will normally choose Format: Convert to Rich Text (that is, RTF), to set the proper font, etc.
    - OpenOffice and NeoOffice sometimes let you set encoding when opening plain-text files, other times not, and sometimes turn text files into spreadsheets. It seems the critical factor is to make sure the file name does not end in .txt (check in Show Info if the extension is hidden.) In Open Office, you must select a proper Arabic font to see the result.
    - In both these and in Bean, the Encoding menu appears as a dialog box after you have clicked Open. In order to save the file as Unicode, you must in Bean click on the "Get Info" toolbar icon and the Change Encoding button (only visible in plain-text files. Thus a bit more cumbersome than the others, but doable.) Opposite to OpenOffice, Bean does not allow you to open text files unless they have the extension .txt.
    - InDesign and Nashir let you "Place" OS 9 Arabic text in a frame. -- Swift Publisher cannot open or place text files. -- Nothing in AbiWord. -- In early NisusWriter Express versions before 2.5, you also had to choose "Arabic" in the Open dialog box, as in these other programs. -- Do not bother with Microsoft Word; while it can convert text-only files in some scripts, Mac Arabic is not an available option (including in Word 2011). -- Most other programs work like TextEdit.

    Unfortunately, many of the programs used for Arabic in olden days, such as WinText, RavKtav, and others have disappeared with no-one to inherit their format. Files from these programs are often impossible to convert, unless you have access to the original program on an OS 9 machine and can save the files as Text Only in it. You may, however, sometimes be able to open such files (incorrectly labelled "executable Unix") as if they were text-only files, using Arabic conversion as above. The Arabic will then be mixed into a mess of formatting codes. Using e.g. Nisus's "Find: Scripts: AnyArabic" can help separate out the actual Arabic text in such files, although manual clean-up will also be needed.

    If you have a text with mixed Arabic and English including European accents, smart quotes or other characters outside basic English A-Z, using the "encoding" method will force Arabic to dominate and these accents will appear as rogue Arabic letters. In that case, you may have to open the old file twice, once under Arabic to get the Arabic text right and once under West European (Mac), to get the accents and smart quotes right, and then copy and paste the correct bits into a joint document.

    You may use the same process if you have an RTF or other formatted document containing OS 9 Arabic which the program insists on displaying as Latin characters: Copy the text you know should be Arabic into a separate file, save that as a text-only file in West European encoding, open it again with encoding Arabic (Mac), and paste the converted Arabic back where they should be in the main file.

  • So, in short,
      • If the original OS 9 document was made in Nisus, open it in NisusWriter.
      • If it was an RTF file, use Mellel to "import" it.
      • If it was a text-only file, use any program mentioned, but notice the caveat on file name if you use Bean or Neo/OpenOffice.

    What about old Word files written in Arabic Windows?

    We have been lambasting Microsoft Word for lack of Arabic support throughout this page, but here the latest version, Word 2011, will actually work. In this version, they have added some resource that allows it to open documents with Arabic content written in Word for Windows, and not only can you see but you can even edit that Arabic text (see further detail). This should work on Word for Windows files as far back as at least Word 2007, possibly even older.

    If you do not have Word 2011, there is an added complexity for old documents that come from Windows. They are often first (mis-)converted from Windows to Mac, not based on their Arabic content, but because of the difference between Mac and Windows "Latin" characters (European accents, mostly). This bungles the Arabic-Arabic conversion, and we must therefore go an extra step to create a file that converts into Arabic:

    1. Open the .doc file in e.g. Nisus, TextEdit or Mellel.
    2. Save As in the format Plain Text with "Text Encoding: Western (Windows Latin 1)"
    3. Open the file again in TextEdit or Mellel with text encoding "Arabic (Windows)", and save it again as Unicode.
    You can use TextEdit, Nisus, Mellel, Neo/OpenOffice, JeditX, Bean or iText for this process, with these remarks:
    - In Nisus, TextEdit, and most others, the relevant menus are Open and Save As, in Mellel they are Import and Export. The names of the encodings vary slightly from program to program, "Roman (Windows)" in Mellel and "Windows Only: Western (Latin 1)" in Nisus, for step 2, are the same.
    - You cannot use Nisus for step 3, as Nisus does not have Arabic Windows conversion; the others do.
    - TextEdit does not let you override encoding in files made by itself for some reason, so if you use TextEdit for step 3, you must use Nisus, Mellel or Jedit for step 1 & 2. If you use TextEdit for step 2, choose Format: Make Plain Text before saving.
    - For NeoOffice, OpenOffice and Bean, see the comments in previous section: In the two Offices, the name of a plain-text file you convert should not have the extension .txt; in Bean, it must have that extension. "Show Info" (in Finder) will tell you if the extension is present or not. In Bean you must change the encoding (manually) before you Save As, see above.
    - In Jedit, you have to set the default encoding in Preferences: Encoding to "Western (Windows Latin 1)" for step 2, and turn off Sniff Encoding. iText Express works like TextEdit.
    - If you cannot see e.g. "Arabic (Windows)" in the TextEdit or Jedit encodings menu, go to Customize Encodings at the bottom of the list.
    - For these types of documents,

    This process thus, unfortunately, requires making the original Word file into plain-text, losing the formatting information. This is because there is no way to override the encoding conversions (which is what we do here) for Word .doc or .rtf files in any of these programs, only in plain-text files can you do that. (Mellel allows it on import, but not export of rtf files). If you have footnotes, however, both Mellel and Nisus will retain those when you save as plain-text, placing them in the body text (TextEdit and Jedit also do so, but drop the reference number.)

    As you can see from the remarks, each program has its own quirks, and the conversion mostly requires a combination of two programs. For an occasional file it does not matter much which, but if you are converting a lot of documents from Arabic Windows to Mac OS X, my choice would probably be to use Nisus for steps 1&2 (creating the plain-text files) and setting up TextEdit for quick conversion of these to Arabic (step 3). Then, if your original Word files had both English and Arabic in the text, copy the converted Arabic bits into their proper place in a second, "English" copy of the original file that did not go through the plain-text route and therefore retains its formatting, in Nisus, Mellel or Neo/OpenOffice.

    I used Arabic under OS 9 and I am missing many capabilities in OS X?

    Partly because Arabic under OS X is limited by Unicode conventions, and partly because Apple had to recreate Arabic support from scratch, it seems, many things we were used to from OS 9 seem to be gone, either for the moment or premanently:
    • Fonts and keyboard used to be linked, so the application "remembered" which Arabic font I had used last when I switched to English and back. They no longer do so always. Some programs have found solutions for their own programs, but this is no longer a system feature. Instead, many applications will keep on in the same font when you switch keyboard, and if that font does not contain the characters of the other script - which it normally will not, of course - it will present the missing characters in the "default" fonts, Lucida Grande for English and Geeza Pro for Arabic.

    • Before, the keyboards menu was nicely ordered, with Latin scripts on top, then a line and Arabic below. Command-Spacebar switched between scripts, Command-Option-Spacebar between keyboards in the script. This is now all messed up; if you have three or four keyboard layouts visible, Arabic will probably appear in the middle somewhere, and Command-Spacebar only switches between the last two layouts used, which may or may not be Arabic and Latin. This is of course because the concept of "script" has disappeared; a keyboard can cover many scripts. Keep the Command key pressed down, or press Command-Option-Spacebar, to circulate between all visible keyboards.

    • We used to be able to enter numbers both left-to-right, and right-to-left (by using the number keypad). Gone. All numbers are now entered left-to-right (which is normally considered the correct way to type numbers, but still). Arabic-shape ("Hindi") numerals are now logically different from and separate from English-shaped; so ١٢٣٤ in an Arabic font is not the same as 1234 in an English font, nor can they be used in calculations (unless the application specifically provides for this, which they mostly do not). In OS 9 you had the option of having calculable numbers in an Arabic font. On the other hand, you can now have Persian, Urdu and other numeral shapes (۴۵۶) alongside Arabic in the same font (if the font includes them), and a little-used Typography option even allows you to switch quickly between them.

    • Some fonts, like al-Bayan, had some special characters for decorative purposes, like [A]llah, salla Allah 'alayhi wa-sallam, etc. These are actually still there, but they have a different place in Unicode from where Bayan used to put them, so you cannot type them with the Arabic keyboard [nor are they converted when you update your documents]. However, you can find them e.g. with Character Palette (check towards the bottom of "Arabic Presentations Forms-A", or at the code FDFA, FDF2, and thereabouts).

    • Such oldies as Arabic calendar is gone, but that was more of a gimmick of limited value.

    • We are still missing support for keshida, "stretching" a word in order to present straight left-and-right margin in justified text. We used to have this in OS 9 and earlier, and without it, justified text may not print as well as it should. Some applications add this function, but only in limited way: Mellel has it as a text function, while NisusWriter Pro has developed some macros for the purpose, but neither are as versatile as e.g. the "Keshida tab" in Nisus Classic.


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