Thursday, 17 December 2009

Novell releases Moonlight 2. InScribeX Web 2 now available on Linux.

Novell has today released  Moonlight 2, their open source Linux implementation of Silverlight 2.

After trying the first Moonlight 2 preview back in May and testing out several preview versions and nine ‘beta’ versions, needless to say the first thing I checked was the current (July) release of  InScribeX Web to see if it is working at last. Sigh of relief!

InScribeX Web is software for working with Ancient Egyptian, including the Basic Egyptian Hieroglyphs added recently to Unicode (5.2). InScribeX has therefore now hit an early goal of running cross-platform on Windows, Mac and Linux.

The Novell press release ( also announced an update to their agreement with Microsoft to include Microsoft support for development/testing of Moonlight versions 3 and 4. Novell is working towards a Q1 2010 preview of Moonlight 3 for release in Q3 with Moonlight 4 to follow ‘shortly thereafter’. Miguel de Icaza describes some technical features, including parts of Moonlight 3 functionality already present in 2 at his blog,

As noted here last week, my InScribeX Web development is now targetting Silverlight 4 as 'InScribeX Web 4' for the spring 2010 timeframe. Reasons include better desktop deployment, printing, rich text support and improved InScribe 2004SE interoperability. Whether some IW4 features might find their way into a Moonlight/Silverlight 2 or 3 compatible version for Linux is an open question. As always, time is the enemy.

Caveats. Some devices such as the Amazon Kindle use Linux but are not user configurable. Hand held devices in general would not be ideal for InScribeX Web because of input and/or small screen size, even if Silverlight or Moonlight were available. Likewise games consoles where I'd need to add controller support and a redesigned interface for widespread accessability. All the same, apparently Silverlight or Moonlight implementations for Windows Mobile, XBox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii are in various stages of development so it will be interesting to see what possibilities arise during 2010.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Designing InScribeX Web version 4: Introduction

During the next few months I’m hoping to find enough time to complete the next version of InScribeX Web (see for the current technical preview). The idea of InScribeX Web is to provide some useful tools for working with Ancient Egyptian in Unicode without the need to buy or install specialist software.

For technical reasons, the next preview of InScribeX Web is unlikely to be online before March/April 2010 so I’ve decided that the best way forward is to blog on the subject so interested parties can follow the development work as it happens. There is no substitute for using software, rather than reading about it, but at least this way gives some opportunity for feedback.

Incidentally I’ve only just discovered my email spam filter had grown too aggressive (it’s a balancing act when one has a public email address) so please try again if you have attempted but failed to contact me in recent weeks.

In parallel with this development I’m continuing to work on a new version of InScribe 2004, namely InScribe 2004SE (Second Edition), which despite the 2004 handle is in fact a major functional upgrade which enables use of Unicode and refreshes the software to take advantage of new features in Windows Vista and 7 while retaining the mode of use and features of the original edition. This is relevant to InScribeX Web as the two are being designed to complement each other when the commercial InScribe 2004SE software is installed.

InScribeX Web uses the Microsoft Silverlight plugin for Web Browsers. The main reason for this choice is simple, I needed the most cost effective way of creating advanced internet software: the project is unfunded so there was no scope for the luxury of developing under more time consuming alternatives such as Adobe AIR or Google Gears (fortunately as Gears is no longer being developed in favour of Google changing tack to an as yet to be clarified HTML 5 approach in ChromeOS etc.). Practicalities aside, Silverlight also allows for fun graphics and other effects and must admit I rather enjoy having these facilities to hand as a refreshing change to the more formal approach necessary in the InScribe 2004SE development.

The choice of Silverlight is not without controversy, nor without complication from a developer perspective. The current InScribeX Web preview was written for Silverlight 2. Silverlight 3 was released in July adding new features and Silverlight 4 announced in November for release in the spring. If that is not enough, the Linux equivalent (Moonlight, developed as an open source project by Novell) is running some distance behind Silverlight itself with Moonlight 2 not expected to be released until early next year (when I built the InScribe Web technical preview, the Moonlight release was expected late Summer).

To sidestep the version complications, InScribeX Web development is now targeting Silverlight 4 (expected in March/April 2010, I am currently using the developer-only Beta preview) and for those interested in such matters I‘m using Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2 (with some Expression Blend) as the development environment. There are some major benefits using 4 which I’ll run over another day. It’s a pure guess but I’m half expecting version 4 to be the point at which Silverlight hits prime time; we shall see.

Unfortunately, this is not good news for Linux users! My thinking at the moment is to wait until Moonlight 2 is released and the current technical preview working and then make a call on what to do. I’m actually very keen on making InScribeX available on Linux (the X means cross-platform) but it would be perverse to penalize the 95% (or whatever it is) of the internet population who can use Silverlight.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Egyptian Hieroglyphs in Unicode 5.2

Having long resisted the temptation to blog, Egyptian Hieroglyphs pushed me over the edge and the topic makes a fitting start to this journal.

Unicode 5.2 ( was released on October 1st, 2009. This iteration of the Unicode Standard is the first to include the Egyptian Hieroglyphic script, one of the earliest forms of writing and rather aesthetically pleasing notably in the colourful style encountered in monumental inscriptions.

The 1071 hieroglyphs specified in Unicode 5.2 are termed Basic Egyptian Hieroglyphs. This set is based on the work of Alan Gardiner, the majority being described in his book Egyptian Grammar (Third Edition, 1957). The list (in PDF format) can be found at (this document is compiled using a version of my InScribe hieroglyphic font, itself inspired by the Gardiner font).

Inclusion in the Unicode Standard is only a starting point for a script to gain adequate support in digital applications and it is likely to be several years before software and web services catch up and provide adequate support for hieroglyphs. All the same it is fun to think that within the next decade people will be texting hieroglyphs and finding new uses for an ancient script beyond the academic.

Michael Everson and myself began work on defining this initial basic repertoire in late 2005 and the final list of 1071 took shape in Autumn 2006 following discussions at the biennial Informatique et Egyptologie meeting in Oxford that Summer. Defining a basic list was not without controversy. There are thousands more graphically distinct hieroglyphs known from ancient texts. The only way to achieve consensus on the basic set was to stick very closely to Gardiner even though this principle meant we are currently lacking some important signs known, for instance, from the Pyramids texts.

I hope work will begin in 2010 to standardize additional hieroglyphs to fill some of the most obvious gaps in a future version of Unicode. Nevertheless what we have now is adequate for many purposes.