Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Mac Malayalam

The promised Mac Malayalam font is available here for your reading pleasure.

It all (re)started when my brother recently bought a macbook pro. Used to the luxury of reading flawlessly rendered Malayalam unicode in Windows and Linux, the Mac experience must have been a little disappointing. The trouble is that Mac OS X doesn't fully support the advanced typography features in OpenType fonts, but instead expects you to use AAT fonts. Unfortunately, the only Unicode Malayalam fonts around (so far) have been all only OpenType.

Now, unlike in 2005, there's a little more information online about how to go about fixing the situation. If you have an (OpenType) font with all the requisite glyphs, then you just need to create a morph input file (MIF), and use tools provided by Apple to merge it into the original font and get an AAT font. Creating the MIF, with the documentation available online, seemed feasible. In particular, we came across Kedage, which suggested that it shouldn't be too hard to do it over a weekend.

Our first idea was to work with Kevin's pioneering Unicode font Anjali. Unfortunately, it turned out that Anjali doesn't explicitly contain all the glyphs it needs, but instead creates most of them by appropriately combining pairs of glyphs. It wasn't clear how to get that working with AAT. So we turned to Rachana (which thankfully was released under the GNU GPL a few years back). (In fact Anjali itself was based on Rachana, from before it became a Unicode font.) The new font RachanaMac.ttf is also, of course, under the GPL.

Finally, we took this opportunity to revive the old Malayalam keyboard. As it turned out, the keyboard was in great shape, and there was not much to alter (except for adding a GPL notice). We used inkscape to put together an icon (though the 16x16 version doesn't look that great) for the Malayalam keyboard. The above logo for the macmalayalam webpage was also created using inkscape.

[Update (Oct 14, 2009): I just came across another font via a Wikipedia article. From a quick look, their font does seem to work quite well, but it doesn't have nearly as many glyphs as Rachana has. So, our font effort is not entirely wasted :) ]

[Update (Jun 24, 2010): Apple recently released OS X 10.6.4 and it seems like it comes with a Malayalam unicode font! Unfortunately it is a bit buggy, and not the most beautiful of fonts.

But I am told that the iPhone withe new iOS4 renders it much better.]

[Update (Feb 25, 2011): Another set of fonts from Apple, for a variety of Indic languages including Malayalam, is available now (via m10lmac). While the Malayalam font doesn't have as many glyphs as Rachana (it has some conjuncts, but leaves out several including ones involving the "u" vowel symbol), it has a bold version.]