back to article Steve Jobs, MS Office, Israel, and a basic feature Microsoft took 13 years to install

You know the cliches: software is always late, and some features take longer to implement than others. The software feature you’re about to read about has only taken 13 years to implement, and turned out to be one of the most politically explosive we’ve ever covered. Cast your mind back to the beginning of 2002. Apple was in …

  1. Zorbec le Gras

    I beg your pardon, what does Cyrillic have to do with RTL language support?

    1. Dan Wilkie

      Because they have that back to front R thing that only looks like an R if you read it right to left?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Because they have that back to front R thing that only looks like an R if you read it right to left?"

        Я and И. But here's the problem; in Hebrew at least although the writing goes right to left, the letters are actually written the right way round. . Complicated, this stuff. No wonder it has taken so long to sort out.

  2. lansalot

    WORST. PUNCHLINE. EVER

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Took them long enough

    Back, a long time ago I sat next to the guy doing the VT-220 Arabic Support. That was oh, more than 30 years ago.

    Other Editors have had it for years but MS being MS and if they don't want to do it... there is very little one can do to make then.

    OTOH, MS could have used the excuse for not doing Arabic support. If they do it, then they might be inadvertantly helping IS plan attacks on the USA.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That was oh, more than 30 years ago.

      FFS MS! You should have had RTL support in before you wrote Office for Mac!!! Some features are important enough to warrant pre-dating the product they're implemented in!!!! IDIOTS!!!!!!!!!!

      1. DavCrav Silver badge

        Re: That was oh, more than 30 years ago.

        "FFS MS! You should have had RTL support in before you wrote Office for Mac!!! Some features are important enough to warrant pre-dating the product they're implemented in!!!! IDIOTS!!!!!!!!!!"

        Original ASCII doesn't have support for é, which even exists in words in English, never mind other languages. I think you're expecting a bit much of the early days of computing.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: That was oh, more than 30 years ago.

          Early days of computing? But this is about MS Word on Mac OS X. Mac OS X came out in 2002, superseding "classic" MacOS which came out in 1984. Neither date counts as "the early days of computing". ASCII's first version was 1963, nearly 40 years before MacOS X.

          ASCII (7 bit) doesn't have accented characters, but Macs did from the start: they started out using an 8 bit character set.

          The article states MacOS X provided OS support for right to left script from late 2002 (AFAICT). Lots of Mac apps have allowed right to left script starting way back then. The problem is that it's taken until now for MS to get with it.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Joke

        Re: That was oh, more than 30 years ago.

        I'm surprised they did not "hack" it in and just reverse/mirror the screen space on the display. ;)

        Joke icon warning, however there is usually more than one way to do things.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: That was oh, more than 30 years ago.

          That's pretty much exactly what was done in the pre-Unicode days. Favourite-search-engine "visual Hebrew". Fucking nightmare it was.

  4. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Lets face it MS should have spent the last 15+ years fixing the damned thing (and not supporting main stream languages like Arabic and Hebrew is a bug to me, not a "feature request"). What did they do? Piss around with the the ribbon, and generally make most versions shittier than before.

    Only recently I found that equations pasted from Windows version of Word to Powerpoint won't work on Mac Powerpoint. And MS fans bitch about LibreOffice not being "compatible", etc?

    A pox on them all! May the fleas of a thousand camels infest their groins!

  5. kmac499

    Well somebody had to :---

    GER LE no skrow tsomla LTR

    1. Glen 1 Silver badge

      Re: Well somebody had to :---

      ¿ʇɥƃᴉɹ ʇᴉ ƃuᴉop ᴉ ɯɐ I ˙punoɹɐ pɹɐoqʎǝʞ ǝɥʇ pǝuɹnʇ I

  6. x 7

    so what did they use instead of Word?

    And was Excel a similar problem?

    1. Dabooka Silver badge

      Unless I read it wrong

      Word for Windows?

    2. CT

      Excel, yes a similar problem, non-joined Arabic letters. As well as all the other problems with text in Excel not behaving like text in Word (double-clicks also select trailing punctuation etc.).

      What did they use instead? There were specialist Hebrew/Arabic word processors, Mellel was/still is one.

      1. keithpeter Silver badge
        Windows

        Mellel

        "There were specialist Hebrew/Arabic word processors, Mellel was/still is one."

        I found Mellel to be a pretty good fast light wordprocessor. I used it for a year or so when I had the iBook. I'm (sadly) mono-lingual and write LTR.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      so what did they use instead of Word?

      There were DOS word processors that supported Hebrew. One of them and J-cal and you were ready to go.

    4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      They used Windows. That was the point of the article. You sell Office on Mac to show that Windows+Office isn't a monopoly - but don't support the feature that makes it usable.

      It's like when Formula 1 engine makers had to supply their engines to another team so the races were "competitive", so Ferrari only sold it's engine to the Scunthorpe Morris dancers factory team.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        "first major vendor to support the original Mac"

        Wasn't that part of the original Apple look-n-feel lawsuit settlement that they had to release applications for the Mac?

    5. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      MultiMate?

      Dunno what they used GUI-wise, but MultiMate was very popular with a lot of Arabic-speaking people I knew in the early 90s.

  7. Mystic Megabyte
    Gimp

    Save your money!

    Here's a how to configure LibreOffice on Mac for RTL fonts.

    http://alefba.us/libreoffice-arabic-persian/

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Save your money!

      "Here's a how to configure LibreOffice on Mac for RTL fonts."

      This, of course, is the LibreOffice that some posters here would have us believe is so lacking in features that it's unfit for serious use.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Save your money!

      Thought!

      I wonder whether MS finally got around to this because they are looking at putting Office onto Linux...

      Obviously, Office for OS/X source code would be a better starting point if you want it to run natively on nix and if the main competition is LibreOffice and variants...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Linux

    Mac OS X didn’t support Right to Left (RTL) languages?

    So let me see if I understand correctly: Microsoft Office for the Mac couldn't do Right-to-left Text because of some lacking in Mac OS X.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Mac OS X didn’t support Right to Left (RTL) languages?

      No, because you don't need OS support.

      I've used MIXED RTL / LTR editing on VANILLA DOS.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mac OS X didn’t support Right to Left (RTL) languages?

        "I've used MIXED RTL / LTR editing on VANILLA DOS"

        Isn't the point here that like real old-fashioned UNIX, DOS just treats everything as a stream of bytes and everything else is done by the application? Whereas nowadays we have piles of layers on top of the OS before you get to most applications, so though you might write a program which simply worked with byte files, it won't be able to make use of OS/UI resources that everybody expects nowadays?

    2. israel_hands

      Re: Mac OS X didn’t support Right to Left (RTL) languages?

      So let me see if I understand correctly: Microsoft Office for the Mac couldn't do Right-to-left Text because of some lacking in Mac OS X.

      That's how I read it too. The other thing that stood out for me is the line about Macs as an "affordable" alternative. Made me do a double-take and check I'd read it correctly.

      A final note: Surely, if people were using Macs but Office wouldn't support RTL then it was a golden opportunity for a locally-produced alternative to step in and win a massive amount of market share without having to compete against Microsoft?

      Unless they couldn't because of the whole OSX couldn't do RTL thing. In which case the finger-pointing should surely be at Apple?

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Mac OS X didn’t support Right to Left (RTL) languages?

        This one is all on MS. Mac OS Classic and X (okay, 10.2 upwards) have always been good with non-western languages.

    3. david 12

      Re: Mac OS X didn’t support Right to Left (RTL) languages?

      MS Office for Mac was written using the Mac Carbon API, which wasn't RTL. The osx Cocoa API, which came out immediately before "13 years ago", did support RTL and other scripts. It's taken MS 13 years to do a complete re-write of MS Office for Mac.

  9. Martin Summers Silver badge

    Wish you guys would make your mind up on which is the reason Apple won't talk to you! :-)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Wish you guys would make your mind up on which is the reason Apple won't talk to you! :-)"

      General refusal to be assimilated? Failure to engage with Northern California boosterism/healthy dose of British style cynicism?

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Coat

      There are many reasons. The real reason is a dark story of whoopie cushion, rigged mike and a bottle of Soy Sauce made to look like Worcester Sauce.

      Or so I've heard.

      Allegedly.

  10. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Yeah Glods. The Acorn BBC Master supported right-to-left text way back in 1984 (as well as bottom-to-top).

  11. Velv
    Mushroom

    So something that's used by 0.0012% of the world population is a "basic feature"

    Sounds more like someone has a chip on their shoulder

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      "So something that's used by 0.0012% of the world population is a "basic feature""

      I think there are more than around 84000 Arabs, to be honest. I guess you meant 0.12%, and were talking about Israel, but Arabic is also RTL, and there are quite a few more of them.

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      ON that basis, maybe they should have only had Chinese.

      OTOH since a lot of wealth is Arabic speaking ( oil money) and a lot of tech is Hebrew speaking, maybe there is a significant business case for RTL.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. AndrueC Silver badge
    Boffin

    I once had to deal with RTL text in one of our apps. We had to associate the visual text with the underlying bytes (it was for a forensic application) for highlighting and marking purposes.

    Thus it was that I encountered the wonderous GetCharacterPlacement() API function and it's lovely GCP_RESULTS structure.

    Still 'n all - it only took me a couple of days to get it all working. I will always remember the joy of dragging the mouse left to right and seeing the text in Arabic being marked right to left.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Stunned and amazed

    How on earth could a company such as Microsoft, with global software domiation ambitions, not have planned from the outset to eventually provide support for the countless linguistic nuances around the world.

    But no, they wrote their product for the merkin market and expected to be able to adapt it for regional markets later on... After all, whats good for America is good for the rest of the world, right?

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Stunned and amazed

      Well Duh!

      'merikans want us all to use 7-bit Ascii and spell colour without the 'u'.

      For many, the world outside their State (and possibly the next one) just don't exist.

  14. Kobblestown

    Too expensive? Yeah, sure!

    Reminds me of when Microsoft refused to localize Windows for my country saying that it would take them > $1million. And a local dude did it for free by replacing the strings in the binaries. It was only for a specific version of Windows (Win98 IIRC) but I'd never trust MS on such things again.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Too expensive? Yeah, sure!

      Indeed, try doing 576 line, interlaced video 25fps (PAL sources) in the original XP free video Editor.

      No European video support.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Too expensive? Yeah, sure!

      > Microsoft refused to localize Windows for my country saying that it would take them > $1million. And a local dude did it for free by replacing the strings in the binaries

      Yup, so was the case in many "small markets" across the world. But those two statements are not mutually exclusive. What takes a local dude a few days of his spare time to do is almost guaranteed to take MS over a million USD (and a few years). Welcome to the corporate world and its overheads.

  15. MiguelC Silver badge

    Zulu and Portuguese?

    Why those two specific languages? Unlike Russian, Korean and Arabic, Zulu and Portuguese both use Latin characters, so they would be easy to support and have nothing to do with the point of your article. But, hey, Zulu and Portuguese might sound "exotic"... although Portuguese is natively spoken by around 200 million people in 4 continents.

    1. WolfFan Silver badge

      Re: Zulu and Portuguese?

      I hate to point this out, but Brazil alone has more than 200 million people. Portugal's got another 10 million. Don't know the population of Goa, but I suspect that there'll be a a few million Portuguese speakers in Angola and Mozambique. Odds are that it's a lot closer to 230 million than only 200.

  16. x 7

    how on earth did Zulu end up with a Roman alphabet?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      how on earth did Zulu end up with a Roman alphabet?

      Um...where do the Zulus live? Who occupied their country? And which nationality actually thought it was worth while writing down their language, and what alphabet do they use?

      Years ago on a visit to South Africa, I was taken to a restaurant for lunch where the waitress was simply the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. My companion admitted that he had brought me there simply to admire this sight. He told her I was from England, which got an immediate positive reaction. Then he said "And she's got five grade 1s at O level from an Anglican mission school."

    2. MaxNZ

      Zulu (and all the other related Bantu languages) had no written form prior to European colonisation so the it was Europeans who decided how it should be written. Gets a bit complicated when trying to map the different click sounds.

      1. Martin Taylor 1

        Re: Steve Jobs, MS Office, Israel, and a basic feature Microsoft took 13 years to install

        @MaxNZ: Except for Swahili, which a one time was written in Arabic script. Indeed, the very name of the language is Arabic.

    3. MiguelC Silver badge

      Zulu had no written form untill, inthe 19th century, British and Dutch missionaries phonetically converted spoken Zulu to written form, obviously using their own latin alphabet.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      when the Europeans turned it into a written language.

    5. Kernel

      "how on earth did Zulu end up with a Roman alphabet?"

      The usual reason is that they didn't already have an written form of their language and were eventually given one by a passing missionary - in much the same way that a monk named Cyril provided the Russians (and a few others) with his take on how their spoken languages should be written down.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > a monk named Cyril

        ... and his sidekick Methodius. Meth to his mates.

    6. WolfFan Silver badge

      Y'all _have_ heard of the Anglo-Zulu War, 1879, haven't you? Rorke's Drift and all that? 11 Victoria Crosses ring a bell? Hollyweird made a movie of it, didn't screw it up too badly, was the first movie Michael Caine was in. At the end they paid Richard Burton to reel off the names of the 11 VC winners while 'Men of Harlech' ran in the background. After Rorke's Drift and the massive defeat of Ulundi, the Zulus were in the British Empire whether they wanted to be or not. (They didn't.) They got the Latin alphabet same way pretty much everyone else in Africa got it: at cannonpoint.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cost and what they can screw out of you

    Back in the day when Big Red was much Smaller Red, I was lucky(!!)) enough to be part of a team that put one of the first Oracle Manufacturing systems in the UK. (for the interested [if any,] Forms 2.3, Applications 6.3.8, Oracle DB V6). In those days it was all character based and we had a "Quickpick" that displayed in the wrong order, oldest to newest, we needed it the other way round. They (big red) kindly provided a resource at the cost of a day's work, to fix it for us, And their rates were as exorbitant then as they are now. Less than a month later, we worked out how to do this ourselves, takes approx 10 minutes to do it Properly, 2 minutes in a rush.

    The moral?? NEVER listen to the big boys when they say it will cost X millions of $ or £, actual cost probably < 1% of quote ( after all our offices have to impress!!).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cost and what they can screw out of you

      And does your 10 minute 'fix' include all testing including regression, compatibility testing, ongoing support, SCM branching etc.?

      1. Gary Heard

        Re: Cost and what they can screw out of you

        This was 20+ years ago, "Wild West" time and guess who the cowboys were....???

  18. packetguy

    A wonderful story...

    ...perfectly told. Thank you!

  19. Rudy

    Finally!

    Even bigger news: this version of Outlook actually works on El Capitan!

  20. 420Penguin

    Curious

    The picture in the article looks like there's no Ribbon in Office 2016 for Mac. That's one less travesty that Office for Mac users won't have to put up with if true.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Business Cases

    They are a bit like statistics, in that 98.73798% of them are fake. Or lack rigour, or can be approached in several ways, some wronger than others.

    A bit like hypothesis testing and ANOVA may tell you one thing, but simply plotting the data in a graphic and looking at it will tell you a very different story, it so happens with business cases that, while a simple, conventional calculation may discourage a certain course of action, often common sense and the ability to look at the wider picture will suggest otherwise.

    From various bits that I've read on the web, I get the impression that Word's innards are a massive mess, something possibly justified in its early days when memory and CPU constraints were more of an issue, but not a good state of affairs for a product which presumably is intended to be long-lived.

    Therefore, RTL support could and perhaps should have been viewed in the context of cleaning up and generally improving the code base so as to reduce maintenance costs in the future (never mind performance and stuff like that, but that may not save you money or get you extra customers). Saying "Middle Eastern Office on Mac users are a tiny market" is narrow minded to the point of incompetence (if that's how the story actually went).

  22. Al Black

    Bad Idea

    multi-language support is a bad idea: force everyone to compute in English: it is better for social cohesion in the long run, and the software is much easier to write, so would be cheaper...it's all win/win.

    1. Andy Davies

      Re: Bad Idea

      ... AND DO IT IN UPPER CASE - SMALLER CHARACTER SET, AND JOHNY FOREIGNER IS BOUND TO UNDERSTAND IF YOU SHOUT!

  23. David Paul Morgan
    Happy

    and then there's Yiddish too!

    Written RTL but a transliterated germanic language!

    Yiddish גוּט טַק אִים בְּטַגְֿא שְ וַיר דִּיש מַחֲזוֹר אִין בֵּיתֿ הַכְּנֶסֶתֿ טְרַגְֿא

    Transliterated gut tak im betage se vaer dis makhazor in beis hakneses trage

    Translated May a good day come to him who carries this prayer book into the synagogue.

    (from Wikipaedia)

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021