History of Urdu Softwares

Found in Translation
Urdu on the Web has developed a presence of its own at long last.
By Kashif Hoda and Zainab Lakhani
SPIDER [www.spider.tm] June 2004

It is hard to imagine that the history of Urdu on the Internet is now a decade old.

The first step in introducing the Internet as a new medium for Urdu, was made on May 10 1994, by Syed Zafar Kazmi when he started a newsgroup for Urdu poetry. The newsgroup was called alt.language.urdu.poetry (ALUP). For some years this was the only place where Urdu lovers had a platform to discuss Urdu literature. Urdu sites were to come later.
In the beginning Urdu sites were nothing more than personal webpages with some pages dedicated to Urdu poetry; almost all of them presented Urdu in Roman text. In June 1997, Shahbaz Chaudhry suggested using a True Type Urdu font to make Urdu webpages. In October that year, Umair Khan started his website, Urduweb.com; he not only used an Urdu font to create webpages but provided people with the software to write Urdu in e-mail. Soon there was a long list of Urdu sites using UrduWeb technology.

Soon after, Naseem Amjad of Lahore released Urdu Nigaar. This software was designed especially for creating Urdu webpages. The font used was AlKatib1, and was modified from an Arabic font. While there were many downloads for Urdu Nigaar, this did not result in many people creating webpages with it, since viewing Urdu webpages required a download and installation of the Urdu font; in the days when a large number of users accessed the Net from public terminals, it was not possible to download and install software on the computers they were using. In early 1998, Ali Hasnain Shah of Germany experimented with Dyanamic Font Technology (Microsoft called it OpenType) to create Urdu webpages for which users were not required to install Urdu fonts in their system. He used the font Urdu khat-e-naqsh.

All these methods of creating Urdu webpages used modified Arabic Naksh fonts as replacements for actualy Urdu fonts. Pakistan Data Management Services (PDMS) was the first to create a font that was very close to Urdu Nastaleeq. Known as Urdu98, this font worked on any Windows operating system, and was a plug-in which was installed the first time you visited any website that used Urdu98. The installation process required minimum interaction from the user and the result was satisfactory. Content rich websites, such as the Daily Jang (an Urdu newspaper), started using it, but the price of US$250 kept it out of reach for most users.

The most popular method for making Urdu websites continues to be by using Urdu .GIF files created by InPage. InPage, developed by Concept Software, an India-based company, displays the true Nastaleeq font. It uses a ligature-based system developed by Mirza Ahmed Jamil, a Pakistani artist. In this system, all possible Urdu words are stored in different font files. When users type in text, it is matched to the existing files, and a true nastaleeq rendition is performed on the screen. Additionally, the ligature system stops users from just copying and pasting text into any other application. The only way to export Urdu text created by the earlier versions of InPage is to make an image file (which is generally a .GIF).

The honor of being the oldest Urdu website around goes to Urdustan.com (the writer of this article is the founder of urdustan.com) which was launched in August 1998. However, UrduPoint.com is the most popular website in terms of traffic. While some news sites such as the Jang and Nawa-i-Waqt may get more traffic than UrduPoint.com, UrduPoint is a 'live' website while Urdu newspapers are merely publishing replicas of their paper editions.
Urdu is known for its quality literary magazines. New magazines dedicated to the promotion of Urdu will be appearing online shortly. Urdu magazines, such as Urdustudies.com, published in English by Prof. Muhammad Umar Memon of the University of Wisconsin are available in their entirety online for anyone to download and read. Jadeed Adab, edited by Haider Qureshi of Germany, is the first Urdu magazine to publish online and paper editions simultaneously. While literary magazines were slow to join the Internet party they are catching up fast, with many planning to launch their websites in a few months time.
Many Urdu writers have their own websites, they communicate with each other using e-mail and have set up a mailing list called urdu_writers to discuss ideas and propagation of news related to Urdu. E-mails are also used by many literary journals to get content for their magazines. Haider Qureshi, while living in Germany, has been able to publish his magazine Jadeed Adab by simply using e-mail to communicate with different contributors. Ahmed Hamesh, the editor of Tashkeel, which is published from Karachi, also uses e-mail on a daily basis.

ApniUrdu.com, UrduWord.com, and UrduSeek.com makes clever use of technology for the benefit of Urdu users. All of these sites apply different ways to provide online translation services. ApniUrdu.com is really remarkable in that it translates English sentences into Urdu. Faisal Naseem, the young programmer of ApniUrdu.com, has made his technology open so that others can benefit from it. This attitude will help Urdu not only survive but progress, a notion that was unthinkable just a few years ago.
Considering what Urdu has managed to achieve so far in the last 10 years, it may be safe to expect an even brighter decade for Urdu on the Internet.

Related sites:
Jadeed Adab
Pakistan Data Management Services
Urdu Software by Naseem Amjad