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A Users' Guide to Yiddish on the Internet

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Blitspost un Vebzaytlekh (Email & WebPages) af Yidish

Unicode UTF-8 for Yiddish

The emerging standard (i.e., technology which we hope will be someday be universally accessible for everyone around the world) for Yiddish email and web pages is called "Unicode UTF-8 encoded, plain text." However, at the moment there are limited (yet growing) applications that can use this system. If you have Windows 2000 or XP, you will surely  be quite satisfied with the options which are readily available to you for Yiddish. Depending on your Yiddish computing needs, you might find it interesting to explore a variety of programs which offer Yiddish capabilities, even though some of them do not yet handle Unicode.  Following is a brief layperson's overview description of Unicode, with links at the bottom to practical summaries of what you, at this time, can and cannot do with/without Unicode for Yiddish and how to do it. Even if you use a non-Unicode program for Yiddish, you can probably convert the text to/from Unicode by using the shraybmashinke Yiddish Typewriter which is available on the web at no cost. The shraybmashinke and some if its creative usages are discussed in more detail on the Rubegoldbergeray page.

Unicode UTF-8
What it is:
First, a little background. Computers can only read two types of files: text files and binary files. Some examples of binary files are: a graphic image,   a program ("application"), or a Word document file which has text within it that can only be read with a special program (Word). A pure text file can be read by any text reading program, including rudimentary ones which come free with operating systems (e.g., NotePad, etc.) as well as virtually all web browsers (like Netscape or Internet Explorer). There's a universally accepted scheme which allows computers to recognize a character (i.e, a letter of the alphabet), which has been around since the beginning of  computers. It's called ASCII. The benefits of having Yiddish appear as text instead of in a binary file are: 1)  you can search for a word, and 2) a text file always take up less memory (faster to download, etc.) than binary files.

Unicode is a new system for coding character sets (i.e., letters of the alphabet) which is similar to ASCII,  in which a code (say a number) is assigned to each letter. The difference between Unicode and ASCII is that Unicode exponentially increases the number of code locations available, making it possible to create a standardized code with a unique computer-readable code for every letter of many different alphabets. (There just weren't enough slots within the ASCII system to accommodate all the letters of all of the alphabets of the world.) Standardized Unicode alphabet codes already exist for many languages, including Yiddish thanks to  UYIP, whose Moderator, Mark David, has been corresponding with appropriate people at Microsoft and Apple to make this happen. To see the official list of Unicodes for Hebrew and Yiddish, see <http://www.unicode.org/charts/> and   <http://www.microsoft.com/globaldev/reference/WinCP.asp>.

Advantages: An advantage of Unicode is that it  uses actual text in which one can search for a word. Also, text is usually smaller than say an image and so it takes up less memory. Someday, it will probably be univeral; i.e., anyone will be able to share the text between computers, regardless of the type of system.

Disadvantages: The disadvantage is that the current Unicode version which supports Yiddish (UTF-8) is not yet usable consistently by everyone. (For example, Netscape 4.7 does not support it, but Internet Explorer and some other browsers such as iCab or the new Opera/Mac do. Regarding email programs, Outlook Express 5.x or 6.x and LingoMail support it, but AOL and Eudora 5.0 do not.)  Obviously, this is a problem when sending email across platforms and when trying to create a web page that everyone can read. Also, many programs which can handle Yiddish in other ways do not yet use this standard, making it cumbersome to share text electronically with many people. A growing number of practical Unicode software options exists today.

Future: There is significant movement to develop Unicode into a universally accepted system. It is already used for many languages, and so it is likely that in the future there will be many software packages that will support this Unicode standard, providing potentially a lot of flexibility. Suggestion: Write to the vendors of  your favorite programs (email programs such as Eudora, the popular browser and email client Netscape, any of the non-Unicode programs that handle Yiddish using other code systems) and ask them to add Unicode UTF-8 and right-to-left functionality.

Conversion: If you have old Yiddish computer documents which you would like to convert to Unicode, try the Yiddish Typewriter.

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