Sunday, May 04, 2008

Surfing beyond the USA

I have recently started using web browsers for specific tasks. I'm looking for one browser capable of meeting every internet need but I haven't found it yet.

is a good standard with a good rendering of HTML and CSS. I find it easy to design for. And it has some nice add-ons and extensions.

Camino is Firefox's younger brother designed specifically for the Mac. I've started using it because I like it's integration with the MAC interface and function.

Firefox and Camino are both Mozilla projects.

Opera has a lovely 'speed-dial' feature and good font handling.

Safari is designed by Mac for Macs. I've been finding it best at displaying international characters.

While Opera handles fonts better than the Mozilla products its HTML/CSS rendering is not as good. And while Safari is best at fonts there are issues with diacritics and spacing, and I have problems with the HTML/CSS display.

I was recently looking through some of goofy's posts over at bradshaw of the future and the font issue became obvious. It's a good site if you're interested in etymology. It's also good for checking on how the browsers are handling text (as are Bill Poser's posts at L-L).

Using goofy's post banyan and venus we can tellingly compare the four browsers.

Firefox and Camino display identically using the question marks when confused.

Opera displays the Devanagari for goofy's example of the Sanskrit. But in an attempt to show something instead of nothing the Gujarati comes out in a familar style of mangled surrogate characters.

Safari handles all the fonts without a problem.

In another post goofy throws some Arabic characters in there. The text shows up simply in the Mozilla software:

While Opera gives us block placeholders:

And Safari gives us a more detailed script:

Safari looks like the clear winner. But now it gets interesting. Take a close look at the Devanagari in the first example. Compare the text as presented by Opera and Safari. We'll zoom in on vāṇija

in Opera

and in Safari

Notice the flipped characters. We can set up a rough correspondence between the Devanagari and Roman characters in these words.

= v

= a

= n

= i

= j

Because the last character is a word final consonant it includes the [ə] in its pronunciation and we don't need a vowel written after it.

With these correspondences Opera at first appears to render the characters in the correct order. But Safari actually gets this one right as well. The ~<i> character is actually a diacritic on the ~<n> character. And it is correctly rendered before the consonant. So Safari has the right order. (Bāṇija shows the same ordering issue.)

This ordering of the diacritic has even confused the designers of the Wikipedia logo. Look at the puzzle-piece globe on the front page (where it's big enough to see). On the left limb you'll notice the ~<vi> syllable represented in the wrong order. Bill Poser mentioned this about a year ago.

Thank goodness for Exposé.


  1. My preferred browser, iCab, also gets this right.

  2. I don't know anything about iCab. What do you like about it?

  3. Well, it speaks Macintosh a lot more fluently than Firefox does, and it's a lot more customizable than Safari. It also takes standards quite seriously--it's got a built-in html validator, which is handy for when I'm making Web pages of my own--but you can also tell it to behave non-standardly in ways that emulate other browsers (so that non-standard code will display as intended). And it's got some nice ad-filtering tools, although unfortunately the latest version is not backwards-compatible with the filters I set up before, so I'm currently having to reconfigure some of that.

  4. I haven't used iCab yet. Safari is my choice because of its Unicode support. A more annoying problem for me is that Mac OS X just doesn't come with support for as many scripts as Windows does.


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