Nyein Chan Ko Ko
Sep 3 · 8 min read

It all starts with a font.

Wait! A font?

Who knows: a slightly wrong decision in 2006 will make trouble for 55 million people in the future. Myanmar is the last country which is facing a problem with their language in computers. We call this civil war between fonts.

The majority of the people use locally made font encoding system which is useful for writing and reading on the internet and electronic media. But, it’s not ready to embrace advanced language processing and database storing which can only be made with Unicode encoding system. That lits a fire between Unicode and zawgyi and it’s been clashing for more than 10 years. If you want to know more details about it, please read this article.

However, now we are in 2019, things have changed. It looks like a revolution for IT industry in Myanmar. The government recognized Unicode as a standard method for encoding in computer-based works.

Speaking of Unicode, that includes using fonts which follow Unicode standard and keyboards which can be used with those fonts.

The main problem here is 90% of people who are now using zawgyi font system will not be able to see the Burmese texts encoded with Unicode system.

Migrating from zawgyi to Unicode is a nightmare for everyone. And some people raised concerns about what will happen to our past data if we all migrate to Unicode.

Facebook

Since most people use facebook as the internet, facebook themselves play a major role in migrating people from zawgyi to Unicode. Fortunately, there is a special feature which is only available in Myanmar. Facebook auto-converts zawgyi to Unicode and vice versa in FB app and messengers, and will see it soon in

page manager and FB for work as well. It’s more like a translation between languages. The only difference is that it translates Burmese (zawgyi) to Burmese( Unicode). In that way, people can still read and comment regardless of the encoding system they use. No more wall between zawgyi and Unicode. Yay!!

However, that feature is not supported to millions of Burmese people living outside Myanmar. Facebook said people living inside Myanmar are their priorities and they might release the feature for people living abroad in the future update. We believe Facebook will continue to support auto conversion for some time during the transition stage. We are not sure how long will it be. After that period, it’s highly likely that the old contents will eventually be converted to Unicode. In my view, it’s pretty tough, because there are also ethnic languages mixing inside Burmese posts. To distinguish between Burmese(zawgyi) and ethnic languages, more rules and algorithms are needed, and the train data for ethnic languages.

How do we convert our Zawgyi Contents?

That contents need to be divided into personal and work.

For the personal, you have messages, contacts, books, music, and documents named in Burmese. For those parts, there are some simple tools you can use to easily convert to Unicode with just one click. For android, there is an app called MCF MUX which is endorsed by Myanmar Computer Federation, don’t find it in the Play store, you will not see. It can be downloaded from this site. That app can replace your default message app in android and can convert every message from zawgyi to Unicode and vice versa. It can also convert the contact list and documents name.For iOS, the only app I found so far is “Pyaung”. Its functions are very limited, can use for text converting and content converting, that’s it.

For work, there are some software which can be used to convert documents from Zg to Unicode, they are window os-based, some are written in Java. Not very user-friendly though. I’m still hoping to see more tools for easily migrating our docs, excel and so on to Unicode. Apart from those tools, you can use an online converter such as rabbit converter, simply copy the zawgyi text and paste in the zawgyi box, it will produce Unicode text on the right side. If you have a huge database, then it’s quite challenging to convert every single post from zawgyi to Unicode, you will definitely need help from technical experts who have experienced in migration.

The technology available for Unicode Migration

Keyboards

Zawgyi has only one font and one keyboard. Unicode has many fonts and different keyboard layouts. Which one is the best? That’s the question people asked so far when they start using Unicode. In reality, giving too many options worsen the frustration. Let’s see this as a smartphone brand. Unicode is the OS (android) and the fonts are the brand name ( such as Samsung, xiaomi, Huawei, Oppo, etc) which are developed by different parties. If you found a fault in one brand but not in the others, is it OS fault or brand fault? It’s a brand fault, right? Its similar scenario in Unicode, Unicode itself is a standard, some fonts don’t follow it, and they became a fault.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi publicly announced to use Pyidaungsu font in office and government works in February 2019. It will replace Myanmar3, the government offices have been using for 8 years. But, for the font on our website, computers or mobile devices, we can still use any Unicode font we like.

For the keyboard part, there is Zawgyi layout, Pyidaungsu (formerly known as Myanmar3) Layout and Win Layout. It’s similar to QWERTY, QWERTZ or AZERTY. Most people are familiar with the Zawgyi layout. Many office staffs are familiar with the Pyidaungsu layout. There is some keyboard like Keymagic which supports both Zawgyi layout and Pyidaungsu layout and Win + many ethnic layouts. You can choose any layout you want and the output format will always be in Unicode. But, you need to make sure to use Unicode fonts to be able to see those outputs correctly.

In my experience using key magic in MacBook Pro 2015, not very satisfied with the results. There are some bugs in the keyboard and when I do speed typing, that glitches always slow me down. So I switched to using Myanmar 3 bundle which is Pyidaungsu layout and install directly into /Library/Keyboard Layouts. I’ve been using that for more than 2 years and pretty ok. I only need to practice new layout Pyidaungsu though I was more familiar with Zawgyi layout. But it’s worth to practice, coz Microsoft’s default Myanmar keyboard, Google’s on-screen keyboard and upcoming Myanmar keyboard in new Mac OS will all use Pyidaungsu layout. So, it’s the future standard layout for Myanmar. You better need to practice now.

One thing for window os, there is two Myanmar format in win 10, Visual order and phonetic order. The only difference is typing (ေ ) before or after consonants. Phonetic order has some bugs, you should avoid using it.

The impact on smartphone users.

This wave is huge and mobile phone users will feel this movement very soon.

I don’t have exact smartphone demographics and the most popular brands and is version. Based on the data I can see from my firebase, most people use Samsung and Xiaomi and the majority of people use android 8. The built-in font in the android smartphones supports Myanmar Unicode, starting from android 4.4. Majority of smartphone users will be able to switch to Unicode easily from their language settings and themes. But for the older devices which were sold before 4.4, very few percents in the market, it might be harder to see Unicode. Even if the users go to Mobile services, there is nothing much the service centers can do. I think Unicode migration committee has already met with smartphone vendors and mobile shops, hope that there will be some answers from those meetings. In the meanwhile, volunteers will do helping to change zawgyi to Unicode in their community. But, we do need a systematic approach to achieve this. Since everyone is using facebook and messenger, it’s not very hard for them to communicate with the unchanged community. The only pain comes from the famous messaging app like Viber and Joox ( Spotify for Myanmar). They don’t support conversion inside them. I think if people can’t see auto conversion in Viber, they might be switching back to the messenger. In the case of Joox, they only support zawgyi in song names and lyrics.

What if we don’t change?

Can the government do something if we don’t change to Unicode?

Humm!

This is not like law enforcement, more like a setting a guideline for everyone. If I don’t change it by Oct 1, I’m pretty sure I will not be put into jail or fined. But, the government will still hold the authorities in some places, they can pressure me in some circumstances if I don’t follow their guidelines. So far, I don’t see any announcements which state the fine or incentives.

Another thing is from the user side, many people are awakening from the zawgyi’s spell and they are switching to Unicode. If Unicode users are getting increased, they would also demand the companies and service providers to use Unicode.

Good news is that if everyone uses the same system, the headache happening right now in our companies, communication, and development will disappear forever. Plus the data in Burmese will no longer be like garbage. We will have a lot of data which is reusable and store way more systematics. If you want to know more about the timeline, please have a look at the following images which are provided by MCF.

Myanmar Unicode Migration Timeline (Photo:MCF)

Hotline or Help Desk.

If you need any help switching from zawgyi to Unicode, there is an official hotline from MCF , the organization which lead this migration. And you can also get community help, they are not professional, but you will see a lot of likeminded people and response is incredibly quick. I also have my youtube channel where I provided some tutorials about Unicode. See in the last session of this post.

Who is going to involve in Migration? (Photo:MCF)

For the campaign and education

Migration committee recently appointed several famous artists as the Unicode ambassadors. They could represent Unicode and do promote as public figures. But, what I’m noticing now is the social influencers in facebook , they are starting to write about Unicode related articles and convince a lot of people to adopt this new system . Broadcast media will also host talks about Unicode adoption and I feel like it’s a time when we pushed hard for NLD campaign in 2015 election. But, only MCF and people in migration committee will know details plan . Telecom operators are sending message to people that they are going to switch Unicode, not only in messages but also the whole content system. Many Facebook pages and websites are migrating as well. As for the education part, I still don’t know how would they handle. I think it’s not necessary to educate everyone. And it’s impossible to educate everyone in Myanmar. We just need to provide tools and support for this great migration to be as smooth as possible.

Photo:MCF

Official resources :

www.mcf.org.mm

http://www.unicode.today/

Hotline: 09455 736 999

Community Support

https://www.mmunicode.org/

fb.com/groups/mmunicode

Youtube

How to use Unicode and zawgyi like a boss

Learn more about Unicode/zawgyi problem

https://frontiermyanmar.net/en/features/battle-of-the-fonts

Tools/ Tutorials

Toolbox.phandeeyar.org

Knowledge.phandeeyar.org/

bit.ly/UNICODEMADEEASY

http://bit.ly/mmunicodetools

Pyidaungsu font guide.

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