What would a 'Kartika Fixed' font for Malayalam DO, exactly?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/08/23 03:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2006/08/23/712587.aspx

Way back in February of this year, Cibu posted about how (apparently) he thought that the idea of Monospaced fonts for Malayalam was foolish. He said:

May not be.. The real issue is stacked conjuncts. Nobody should/can enforce that one particular conjunct should be there in all monospace fonts. Similarly about which conjunct should not be in it. So both 'സ്ന' and 'സ്‌ന' should occupy same text width (pitch) - which is ridiculous.

Now there are actually several problems of fact in this text, which need to be dispatched first:

Now on to the conceptual issues. :-)

Back in February of this year when I posted Where are the IE plain text fonts?, I talked a bit about the fact that fixed width fonts were not generally available for complex scripts, and in September of 2005 when I talked about Fonts that are 'fixed-width' even if they do not claim to be, I hinted at the solution but mentioned how fixed width fonts for complex scripts would be a topic for another day.

And in May of this year in The font width is broken? Well, fix it!, I described the solution more explicitly:

Though there are some languages that will never work properly with a fixed width font without a LOT of work and a willingness to sometimes negotiate only cells that line up and not single width per character (kind of like the CJK fonts do, but much more so).

The idea behind a fixed width font for complex scripts is text that lines up, not having a literal one cell per code point. So that if giving a Chillu example like the following use Vista almost RC1 and the Consolas font that everything would line up:

Now everything on the left side lines up, but because the Malayalam is being rendered via the Kartika font (thanks to Uniscribe font fallback), everything on the right does not. A true fixed with font that covered Malayalam (Kartika Fixed?) would somehow plan its glyphs out so that just like East Asian fixed width fonts can line up text, Malayalam could do the same, and display such things in an easy-to-line-up manner.

I imagine that there are developers who would love such a font in Visual Studio given it's Uniscribe support. It can't just be me; there may even be some Malayalam developers who would like to see their code look right despite having Malayalam text within it (in string literals or comments or even methods/properties/class names).

This may be too hard, it may not be cost effective, it may not be worth the effort. But the scenario is a sound one and conceptually it is easy to imagine what such a font would do in these cases. Perhaps a real artisan could make it beautiful!

And if it were a good Malayalam font, it would likely have the chillus in it....


This post brought to you by U+200d, a.k.a. ZERO WIDTH NON-JOINER)

# Ben Cooke on 23 Aug 2006 1:20 PM:

Out of curiousity...

If I have a Malayalam font installed which has "line-up-able" glyphs but I also have one that has proportional glyphs, how does Uniscribe know that the former is a better fallback for Consolas (or some other monospaced font) than the latter?

In fact, in the more general case, how does Uniscribe decide between two or more suitable fonts when doing fallback?

# Michael S. Kaplan on 23 Aug 2006 1:26 PM:

An excellent question Ben -- one that is worthy of its own blog post. :-)

referenced by

2007/11/08 The [non-]progress of the über-fixed width fonts

2007/04/23 How long is it in the console?

2006/08/23 From crappy to snappy in five steps

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