Gov’t Orders That Computers Be Switched to Khmer Unicode

Government institutions will soon be required to switch their computers to the Unicode standard, allowing them to display Khmer script, according to a government spokesman.

“All government officials have to be using Unicode,” said Coun­cil of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, who praised the “convenience” of the encoding standard.

A Dec 24 memorandum gives government ministries 60 days to make the switch, according to Mr Siphan, who said the shift is al­ready under way.

Unicode assigns a unique number to a single character, no matter what the language, according to the website of the Unicode Con­sortium, the organization that main­tains the standard.

Khmer Unicode “allows a computer anywhere in the world to recognize a character as Khmer,” ex­plained Javier Sola, coordinator for the Khmer OS project, which is run by the Open Institute and is aimed at providing computer tools in Khmer that can be used by anybody.

Before Cambodia had its own ver­sion of the international standard, there were as many as 30 ways to encode Khmer script, which Mr Sola described as a “mess.”

A non-government committee started work on Khmer Unicode in 1996, and the standard was fixed in 1999, according to Mr Sola, who hailed the government’s embrace of the standard as an “important step.”

Khmer Unicode, like any version of Unicode, is supposed to work on many operating systems, and on all Web browsers. However, Mr Sola said sometimes it runs into problems, such as on older Microsoft operating systems, like Windows XP. “Windows XP by default didn’t support it,” he said. “We actually created some software to support it.”

Still, Unicode potentially allows a single computer product or a single website to be used across different computers, languages and countries.

Mr Sola said you need to install free software and learn to use the keyboard with a new script to start typing with Khmer Unicode.

It has been used in Cambodian schools since 2007, according to Sok Tha, head of the Ministry of Education’s office of information communication technology in education.


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