Web Fonts and Non-Latin Scripts


Saad D Abulhab in Archive on July 13, 2011

Web fonts for Arabic and related Arabetic scripts has been, and still is, a matter of desperately needed functionality. For many small, historical and endangered non-Latin scripts, offering Web fonts is a matter of survival! It is certainly a more affordable and effective alternative to developing full-fledged software packages. One can compare this to bringing wireless phone services to world regions that would otherwise need to wait decades before implementing the expensive infrastructure needed for wired phone networks.

Since first becoming involved with Arabic typography and computing in 1992, I have witnessed sadly how users of Arabic, Persian, Urdu and other Arabetic scripts have had to watch from the sidelines, for years, the flourishing Latin-based Web. It took almost a decade for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer® platform and other browsers to support the ability to read Arabic on the Web (thanks to the much needed and now indispensable Unicode™ Standard).

Writing Arabic on the Web is an entirely different story. The pioneer Arabic Web mail service, Maktoob, now offered on Yahoo, went through a lot of “Java stitching” to bring Arabic users to the world of Web mail. Even today, many Web font solutions concentrate mainly on display, not dynamic functionality such as forms and Web application development. This problem is magnified when taking into consideration other Arabic-related Web programming shortcomings, such as the lack of support for complex scripts by many libraries. Just recently, we tested a great text-to-image PHP function only to discover that it doesn’t support complex scripts (i.e.  Arabic and Hebrew). On the other hand, standardized Web fonts, such as those offered by Fonts.com Web Fonts, inherently support full Web programming and applications development. Eager to allow users to test and try our Arabetics fonts on the Web, a few years ago we created a dynamic, Java-based Web fonts application, after giving up on major Web platforms, such as Adobe’s Flash® platform.

The world is awakening to the need for high-quality Web fonts for non-Latin scripts. We’re excited to be a part of the revolution – to finally see the Web truly support the world’s writing systems and live up to its name as the World Wide Web.

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