Hebrew Under Windows

By Barry Simon

Users of Hebrew on a PC have special needs.  In exploring some of the options available to you, I’ll look at Hebrew/English word processors and discuss the issue of accessing Web sites with Hebrew embedded in them.

One solution that some may consider is using the Hebrew version of Windows 95 — you then have the Hebrew/English version of Microsoft Word available to you.  The downside of this for users in North America is that if you need tech support on another product, the vendor is unlikely to provide it once they find you are running with such a non-standard environment.

Full-fledged Word Processors

I looked at two major fully-featured Hebrew word processors:  Accentsoft’s Dagesh 2.1 ($199), which should be available by the time you read this, and Dvir Software’s Qtext 7.0 (also $199).  At the time of this review, neither product had been released to the public and both were still going through debugging (testing for stability).  Both are available from Davka (800-621-8227; http://www.davka.com) and from local Jewish book and software stores.

Qtext has a lot more than the basics, with a FAX program and mail merge, tables, table of contents and indexing tools, undo, style sheets, bookmarks and bullets.  It has a spellcheck and Hebrew thesaurus.  One of my favorite features is a floating nikkud bar that lets you easily add nikkudot to existing words (you can also use the number keys to add nikkud while typing in Hebrew mode).

Qtext’s Hebrew fonts work fine within the program, but I was unable to get them to work in other applications because they were not installed into Windows normal font list.  The program has a nonstandard feel to it — for example, the icons on its tool bar aren’t the standard ones for cut, copy and paste.  Its open and save dialogs aren’t the usual ones for either Windows 3.x or Windows 95.  If you use a lot of programs, you may find this disconcerting.  It does not support long filenames.

Dagesh is the same engine that its maker uses in Accent, their flagship product that supports dozens of languages.  You see reminders of this in a language dropdown which includes many languages not supported in Dagesh itself; fortunately, you can use toolbar buttons to switch between Hebrew and English.  By this switching, the program keeps track of what language a given word is in and the spelling checker checks in the proper dictionary.

It has support for tables, but not for table of contents or index.  It has styles, but is lacking a style dropdown, making switching between styles more awkward than in Qtext.

Dagesh’s fonts are installed into Windows and you can easily produce a mixed Hebrew/English text in Dagesh and cut and paste it into Word, if you wish.  It, too, uses non-standard icons and doesn’t support long filenames.  It uses the Windows 3.1 standard open/save dialogs rather than the more flexible ones that are available for Windows 95 applications.

One advantage of Dagesh is that Davka sells a siddur, Haggadah and Machzor at prices from $25 to $40, each in Dagesh format.

Davka also sells the less expensive $69 Accent Express from Accentsoft with an underlying engine similar to the one in Dagesh. The most significant missing features are a spellcheck and thesaurus.

These betas are supposed to be Windows 95 programs. While they work under Windows 95, they don’t have the feel, interface or feature set (for example, uninstall registered in the Add/Remove Program list) that you expect from programs that are truly written for Windows 95.  It is disappointing that 18 months after Windows 95 has shipped, this is still the state of affairs.  If you are in need of a complete Hebrew/English solution right now, the question of which to use is a toss-up.

Another Hebrew Solution

Hebrew Davka is a small $49.95 applet from Davka. It includes two fonts in True Type and PostScript format. You type in expressions in its window using either a phonetic keyboard (e.g. B is bet, I is ayin) or the standard Israeli keyboard mapping, and can copy the expression to the keyboard and paste into an application.  Only the characters are pasted as text, rather than using RTF format which can include font information.  That means after pasting you need to select the text and explicitly choose the font.  For $50, users deserve more:  the program should support RTF and should include a setup rather than expect you to copy and install the fonts by hand.  Still, for those whose sole requirement for Hebrew is an occasional phrase, this is a good solution.

Web Browsing Hebrew Sites

A special need for Hebrew fonts is connected with wanting to surf sites (usually in Israel) that use Hebrew fonts.  You may think that’s no problem because you’ve been to sites that display Hebrew well — but you’d better be sure that those displays are showing text and no bitmaps with Hebrew characters.  A good test site is http://www.education.gov.il/ — if you still have the default fonts in your web browser, you’ll see lots of accented characters where Hebrew should be (because most fonts place accented characters in the positions that Israeli fonts place the Hebrew alphabet.)

There are two solutions to this problem.  The first involves getting a suitable font and then, some fooling in your browser.  You can download appropriate fonts from http://www.virtual.co.il/education/yhe/hebfont.htm or from http://www-leland.stanford.edu/~nadav/hebrew.html (Thanks to Joe Rhein for this second site.)  Once you download the fonts, you install them into Windows 95 in the usual way — by dragging the ttf files into the Fonts Folder (which you open from Control Panel.)

Then, in Internet Explorer, go to the View/Options dialog and hit the “font setting…” button on the general tab and pick the fonts you just installed.  In Netscape, pick Options/General Preference and go to the fonts tab and choose the fonts you just installed.

This fix is somewhat technical and affects the font used in all Web pages at all times.  An alternate solution without these drawbacks is available from Accentsoft in their “Navigate with an Accent” product which is a Netscape Navigator plug-in.  Unlike any other plug-in I’ve seen, it takes over at such a low level that frames no longer work.  Since there is a free solution without this limitation and frames are becoming popular, I’d suggest you pass on this product.

Barry Simon is a contributing editor of PC Magazine and the co-author of The Mother of All Windows 95 books.


Passover Resources on the Internet

Sometimes the pace of development on the Internet is so breathless that the term “Internet Time” was coined to refer to compressed development cycles.  This means that at the time of this writing, I’ll only be able to give you general guidelines about where to look — the addresses may have changed slightly (in which case, go to the top level such as Virtual Jerusalem’s home page) and browse from there.

As with so much else Jewish, the place to start is the OU’s own site (http://www.ou.org).  For every holiday, Virtual Jerusalem (http://www.virtual.co.il) has a big spread with historical and halachic components and they’ve told me to expect the same for Pesach.  Virtual Jerusalem hosts many organizations and you’ll find links to resources from Ohr Somayach, Arachim and Yeshivat Har Etzion.

Editor’s note: Due to numerous other obligations, Barry Simon will regretfully no longer be writing the Bytes & PCs column for Jewish Action.  The editors wish to thank him for the vast amount of computer knowledge and expertise he has shared with our readers over the past few years.  Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, who has frequently co-written computer articles with Dr. Simon, will be writing the column.

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This article was featured in the Spring 1997 issue of Jewish Action.
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