Google and Microsoft love breathing down each others neck. In another classic example of not wanting to fall behind the other, both of them have announced Language transliteration tools which would allow users to type in their native language using the normal English keyboard.
These transliteration tools use free-form transliteration, which means that the user can enter text in a natural manner (phonetically) using English script and it would be automatically transliterated to the target language. Microsoft calls its transliteration tool Indic Language Input Tool, while Google calls it simply Google Transliteration. For now Microsoft is focusing only on Indian languages and supports Bengali, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telegu. Google Transliteration is a lot more global in nature and supports Arabic, Bengali, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Sanskrit, Serbian, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. Let’s take an in-depth look at both of them.
Microsoft Indic Language Tool
There are two ways to use these tools – within online applications and within desktop applications.
The web version is compatible with all most all browsers (including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Chrome and Safari). It works with any website, as long as it has a text field. When you wish to type in an Indian language, just press the bookmarklet. Indic LT will automatically transliterate the typed text on a word by word basis.
The desktop version adds an additional language to your language bar. If you don’t see the language bar you will need to enable it manually. Go to Control Panel–>Clock, Language and Region–>Change keyboards or other input methods. Under the Keyboard and Languages tab click on the Change Keyboards option. Under the Language Bar select floating on desktop option. Now right click on your taskbar and select Toolbars–>Language Bar.
Google Transliteration is also available as a bookmarklet. However, extensions/plugins for browsers can also be developed using the API. Currently unofficial extensions are available for both Firefox and Chrome. Like, most other Google products Google Transliteration doesn’t work in Opera which is disappointing. The desktop version is identical to Microsoft Indic Language Tools. Once again you will need to make sure that Language Bar is enabled.
Both these tools have a simple interface which never gets in your way. Microsoft Indic Language Tool is more universal, but supports only 6 languages. On the other hand Google Transliteration doesn’t work with Opera, but supports 17 languages. I tried typing in Bengali and was suitably impressed with both of them. They got most of the words bang on. The presence of an on-screen keyboard makes it easy to correct any mistake these tools may make. At this moment Google’s product is slightly more polished than MS Indic Language Tool. However, one thing both the products are lacking is support for punctuations.
These new breed of transliteration tools are just the next step in globalisation of computers. It’s not something revolutionary. Transliteration tools have existed for a long time. However, they definitely simplify things by making software like Abhro Keyboard redundant.