Bengali on a Macintosh OS X 10.4 (Tiger)

ম্যাকিণ্টোশের ওএসটেনে বাংলা

Is it possible to view Bengali written in Unicode (e.g. in utf-8 encoded webpages) on a Macintosh?

Almost. But please read till the end. (Most of these problems are fixed in Leopard, and better still, in Snow Leopard. Also, current Firefox, Thunderbird, Safari, etc. have no problem; though Chrome is erratic.)

Bengali is not supported natively on the Macintosh, and there are no proper fonts available for it. The problem is that Macs' font display engine, Apple Type Services for Unicode Imaging uses the Apple Advanced Typography features and does not yet implement the Opentype features needed for Indic rendering. In fact, it is even worse in the newest versions of the OS: if any Opentype features are present, it renders whatever of that it understands and ignores everything else in the font, including any AAT features that may be present.

This means, naturally, that we need a separate set of fonts for displaying Bengali on the Mac than we use on Windows and Linux. Fortunately, such a font can be designed, but since I know very little of Macs, I tried to develop them using the program fontforge starting with the Likhan fonts designed by Deepayan Sarkar. And, there I faced a problem: I don't know anything about fontforge either; and though fontforge supports AAT, it seems buggy. The split matra had to be done through MacInsert, but either I (or fontforge) made a mistake, or some Mac programs are messed up. In particular, though Safari and Mail do display Bengali properly (as far as I can see), the Window titles do not always come out quite right, and Safari seems to crash randomly. Firefox up to version 2 does not support ATSUI, but the Alpha release of Firefox 3 Gran Paradiso version (or the nightly release of the trunk) work fine. (A patched 1.6 alpha testbuild of firefox is also available.) And, to end the long list of problems, fontforge does not have enable flags for the various MacFeatures in the Spline Font Database file, and exchanges the mark-insert and current-insert lists specified for MacInsert there, so the sfd file for Likhan Normal is useless to anyone other than me. In particular, fontforge will not generate a font useable on Macs if you use this naïvely: though you can study the AAT programming from it, and use my untested patch to the 20060209 version of fontforge: it does not work with later versions.

I have generated a test font for use with Macs through a number of hacks. It is gzip compressed, but Stuffit expander can uncompress it. (I was forced to compress it so that this website does not try to put ads inside the font!) You are free to download and install it and point others to this page, but remember it does not work properly yet. For example, the positioning of the ra-phala, or the various below base matras leaves a lot to be desired, the ekaar and aikaar at the beginning does not look nice, and the hasanta+zwj (U+200d) form does not seem to work. Some rare conjuncts are also missing from the font. You can see how well it does by viewing my test file.

Can I write in Bengali on a Mac?
Sure: the details depends on your version of the OS. For the recent version, an xml file describes the keyboard mapping. You can download my layout file to get the Inscript Keyboard for Bengali. You have to uncompress it (Stuffit expander can do it), install it in the Keyboard Layouts in the Library, and then activate it in the Input Methods of the Internationalization item in setup. (You may need a reboot before it shows up.)

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