rtl support in snow leopard

Well, Snow Leopard (MacOS X 10.6) is finally out, so it is time to see how it handles right-to-left languages (I’m primarily interested in Hebrew). Apple’s own claim is this:

For languages that are written right to left, such as Hebrew and Arabic, Snow Leopard now elegantly handles mixing in left-to-right text. It also has a split-cursor option that shows the appropriate cursor direction at the boundary between right-to-left and left-to-right text.

Now it is worth noting that the split cursor function already existed in 10.5. If you were to try TextEdit and switch to Hebrew input in the midst of some English, you would see something like this:

I’ve discreetly highlighted the two halves of the split cursor. The top-right half indicates the insertion point in the L-t-R entry, the bottom-left half is the insertion point for the R-t-L entry.

Now TextEdit appears to operate the same way in 10.6 when mixing Hebrew and English, so it is not clear to me what has been changed. Furthermore, Pages doesn’t handle mixing RTL with LTR any better than it previously did. Mixing Hebrew with English in Keynote previously made a serious mess of things, it may be slightly better, but it remains virtually impossible to reliably edit the Hebrew text because the cursor insists on appearing at one end or the other, not in the middle of the Hebrew if that’s where you’ve clicked.

So what’s changed? The International preference pane now includes a “Bidirectional Text” option under the “Input Sources” which contains a checkbox for “Use split cursor” and another for “Enable keyboard shortcuts.” The help says:

In some applications, such as iChat, Mail, and TextEdit, you can change the direction of text from left-to-right to right-to-left and vice versa. When using certain right-to-left writing systems such as Arabic, Hebrew, Yiddish, Persian, Pashto, and Urdu, you may need to quote words from left-to-right writing systems, such as English. When right-to-left text is mixed with left-to-right text, it is called bidirectional text.

However, I couldn’t get a split cursor in Mail, and (as noted above), I’ve always had one in TextEdit. So, in spite of the options, it’s not clear to me what’s actually changed. It seems there’s still a way to go before Pages and other software reliably handles bidirectional text.

Fortunately Mellel continues to work well with Snow Leopard, and we’re looking forward to the release of Mellel 2.7 in the near future!

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