Want to hear about a cool new typographic convention? Khmer, and I'll tell you about it...

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/12/03 03:01 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2008/12/03/9168086.aspx

Now lots of people have already been talking about cool changes to fonts in Windows 7, such as blogs like Long Zheng's Improvements to fonts in Windows 7, which talk about some of the long-awaited updates to the Fonts folder that will make so much of what we do with fonts easier.

But as many regular readers know, that sort of thing is never my style -- even though I love the updates and enjoy using them, I am much more about the content then about the wrapper, no matter how fancy it is. :-)

With that in mind, I am going to blog about come contents now!

In this Blog, I have talked in the past about many of the issues I am going to touch on in this blog. In, for example, blogs such as:

There are lots more, but the central issue has to do with the requirements of user interface (UI) fonts in Windows.

These requirements, which are very different then the one needed for document fonts and for console fonts, can make for fonts that are either unreadable at normal point sizes or objectively ugly when used alongside Latin fonts, or both.

Although we have produced LIPs for languages like Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Laotian, and so on, many people find the text to be unacceptably and/or unreadably small -- or really ugly when compared alongside English text due to thje difference in apparent character heights.

And this issue has sometimes managed to block requested efforts to create Language Interface Packs for Windows and Office. Because there really is no good way to make a Tibetan font like Microsoft Himalaya or Khmer fonts like DaunPenh/MoolBoran due to the effect of stacking on line height issues. And even if that problem could be solved, the real problems with comparative apparent line heights would make the products unacceptably ugly.

This is the answer often given, with examples, when such requests are made. The answer can even be accompanied by examples of the illegibility, unreadability, or ugliness of the text. Such examples are easy to produce, believe me.

Now sometimes languages actually change their typographic conventions in order to foster quicker adoption by computers.

Japanese, for example, moved from a predominantly vertical RTL to predominantly horizontal LTR typographic layout convention in order to not have to wait for vertical text to become sophisticated enough on computers.

And the adoption of Hebrew and Arabic on computers has most certainly been significantly slowed down by the lack of an easy "solution" such as changing to a mostly LTR layout -- some typographic conventions are clearly harder to shift than others!

Now usually when this hard message is given to a language that Microsoft in unable to produce UI for, the answer is accepted. Grudgingly, of course. But it is hard to argue with text that is unreadable or text that is ugly -- all things being equal, no native user of a language will be satisfied with such solutions.

Though sometimes, users of a language will surprise us!

A great example of this just came up for me in Windows 7.

You see, the other day when one of the people who had the PDC build of Windows 7 asked me via the Contact link about a new font they saw called Khmer UI.

Let's look at an excerpt from the Khmer translation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (English here, Khmer here). First we'll look at it with 14 point DaunPenh:

Khmer w/DaunPenh 14pt

which even at a large font size like 14pt is pretty hard to read.

Plus note how the inline Latin text, which is comparably sized in DaunPenh, would actually look much bigger if the overall font had been Tahoma or Segoe UI and DaunPenh were found via other means like font fallback!

Then we'll look at the same text with 14pt MoolBoran:

Khmer w/MoolBoran 14pt

which again is not so great on readability has English text that looks very non-14pt like.

Now this is the story with the fonts that have been around since Vista. It's not so great.

So now we'll look at the new Khmer UI at 14pt:

Khmer w/Khmer UI 14pt

See what I mean? :-)

Former fellow Softie, colleague, and comrade Carolyn Parsons actually explained the forces behind this font best:

Here is the example of how the government decided to overcome technical issues with getting Khmer to work on computers and electronic devices. Their approach is to take the stacking marks and subscript/superscript forms typically used and put them side by side above or below the base letters. Additionally, they made the base letters wider, both to allow space for the double marks but also to add room inside complex letters for the white space needed to keep letters from filling in with pixels.

Here is an enlarged example of the approaches (old vs new):

Khmer sample old vs. new

The difference in the approaches is best seen at 9 pt, a typical  UI size in Windows. The Khmer text here from a blog entry is unreadable and inline Latin text is awkward.

Khmer sample #2

The new approach takes into consideration limitations of text rendering in Windows and also provides an opportunity to better match Latin text in size. Here you see that the Khmer is more readable and the size of the Latin text is well balanced. The width of the letters give them more size without increasing their vertical height. This is important in UI where text controls are defined by the number of pixels in height. When text is defined as 12 pixels high, we still have enough room to display the combination of base letters and marks or subscript and superscript forms that convey the meaning.

Khmer sample #3

Now I talked to some folks over on the other side off the building who work on/with the Typography team (Peter and Jennifer) about whether this represented an orthographic change, but they suggested that it really is much more a change in the typographic convention,

Fair enough. :-)

Now if you look at the first sample Carolyn provided:

Khmer sample old vs. new

you certainly don't need to be Cambodian to see that all of the same contents are there but shifted in a way that makes it possible to represent the same text in a more readable manner given the various user interface constraints.

Of course only time will tell if this different typographic convention is embraced like the way the Japanese Vertical-RTL to Horizontal-LTR was, or rejected like the once-suggested notions of Arabic/Hebrew RTL to LTR were.

But support from National government is a positive sign and much of the early feedback has been encouraging -- not to mention that the two very different ways are both available so that each can be used when it would be most appropriate -- UI versus documents, for example.

Personally, I am very excited about the effort here, and I sincerely hope that colleague Carlton Pringle (whom I have mentioned before) is reading this and has a chance to give feedback about Khmer UI in Windows 7!


This blog brought to you by(U+1788, aka KHMER LETTER CHO)

# johnny on 6 Apr 2009 10:57 PM:

It is cool but please make it right to our letter style. some scripts were made in wrong writing direction. another thing I want to know how can I change Daunpenh font to Khmer UI font as a default font in Vista? Please tell me how to do it. my mail address is: guidejohnny@yahoo.com

# Michael S. Kaplan on 7 Apr 2009 10:40 AM:

There is no way to do that, sorry. It is built into Uniscribe and if you want to use a font and it is not the default you must choose it explicitly.

But why not try things out in Windows 7 and see what you think of it? :-)

# Michael S. Kaplan on 7 Apr 2009 10:48 AM:

Note that the screenshots were done on a pre-windows 7 machine that did not have the newer Uniscribe on it, thus the display will not be as good as on a Windows 7 machine....

jackie on 28 Jan 2011 1:25 PM:

how do you write the word "friend" in khmer? been looking everywhere and have not been able to find a thing! i would greatly appreciate it.

referenced by

2010/10/20 Khmer and let me tell you about a LIP....

2010/07/26 You can violate the rules of decorum, just not the law of gravity

2010/04/28 "Does my buttload look too big for that stream?" (from the Tales of the "That's what she said!" files)

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