Viktoras Dagys


Institute of Mathematics and Informatics

USING LITHUANIAN CHARACTERS IN E-MAIL: IS IT TECHNICAL OR PSYCHOLOGICAL OBSTACLE?

 

European Union when stimulating the expansion of information society also pays attention to the usage of national languages: there are being created programs of automatic translation which will enable to translate EU documents to all the EU languages, the usage of information technology in the culture and art is welcomed.

Electronic mail is one of communication media in the information society. Language is used for communication, while in case of e-mail it is necessary to use special characters of appropriate language. It can be observed a lot of unwillingness to use special characters when writing e-mails in Lithuanian. Quite often the English alphabet is used instead of Lithuanian one and the text of such electronic mail reminds books printed in kirilica one hundred year ago.

The international standard series ISO/IEC 8859 describes 8-bit coding in personal computers. The 13th part of these series ISO/IEC 8859-13 has been approved as a standard in Lithuania. In our country it is called LST ISO/IEC 8859-13 (it used to be called Baltic RIM some time ago). This coding table (further in the paper it will be called ISO 8859-13) is basic, independent of the operating system, therefore it can be used in telecommunication for data exchange between various operating systems.

If any proper e-mail program (i.e. sending e-mails in ISO 8859-13 coding) is not available, then one should take care that e-mails would be sent in "Windows-1257" (Baltic Alphabet Windows) coding. Almost every e-mail program which works on "Windows" contains such setting. Lithuanian messages sent using this coding almost have no problems in representing characters. It is highly important that the e-mail program you are using would be capable to represent all characters in e-mails, which were sent using either ISO 8859-13 or "Windows-1257" coding, correctly and to send e-mails in least one of those coding systems.

If electronic mail programs of both sender's and addressees' are suitable for using in Lithuania and settings in both programs are chosen properly, then all the characters of Lithuanian alphabet in the received e-mails will be represented correctly.

 

Why sometimes Lithuanian characters are misrepresented in the messages of e-mail?

It can happen due to various reasons. Not all e-mail programs are adapted for using them in various languages. The standards are improved and updated, so the programs should allow the user to choose the appropriate coding. Some software manufacturers do not take into account the changes of standards immediately. Usually there are some bugs in software, and sometimes those bugs are not corrected as soon as they should. It is necessary to adjust new software to the users needs after installing it. Adjust means to set the right language (coding system) and fonts used for incoming and outcoming mail. The settings can be disordered if one replies an e-mail received from badly adjusted e-mail program.

All the most popular operating systems used in Lithuanian have at least one electronic mail program which can be easily adjusted to decode (encode) incoming (outcoming) mail using ISO 8859-13 coding.

Another group would consist of electronic mail programs which can not be adjusted to work in ISO 8859-13 coding. These are basically "Microsoft" products. Nevertheless it is quite easy to set their properties so that the outcoming mail would be encoded in "Windows-1257" coding. This coding corresponds to the standard coding. After these adjustments all the characters of incoming mail coded in ISO 8859-13 as well as in "Windows-1257" will be represented correctly.

E-mail programs containing mistakes make the third group. Despite the fact that "Windows-1257" coding is supported, another coding is set in the header of e-mail (e.g. in the "Netscape Communicator 4.7" electronic mail program "Messenger").

The fourth group consists of programs suitable for using in the Western Europe or USA only. Those programs use ISO/IEC 8859-1 coding. Examples are "Windows" system programs "Eudora Light" or "Eudora Pro"

Further we will shortly discuss the adjustment (to Lithuanian language) peculiarities of the first three electronic mail program groups mentioned above as well as the specifics of their usage.

 

The most suitable programs for Lithuanian language

For those who work in DOS environment we would suggest to use the localised (i.e. translated to Lithuanian) "Demos Mail 2.07b6" program. The software together with all the necessary supplies is located in the FTP server ftp://aldona.mii.lt/pub/MII/PMS/elpa/dos/. There one will also find its installation instruction.

"Eudora" is good for usage in "MacOS" environment. Be careful not to confuse this program with "Eudora" electronic mail programs for "Windows".

The best program for "Windows" environment is "Pegasus Mail". To set the standard ISO 8859-13 coding just download (from ftp://aldona.mii.lt/pub/MII/PMS/elpa/windows/) the coding file "wpm-lmtt.rsc" and change the setting "Default MIME character set:" into "ISO-8859-13" in the "Tools -> Options -> Advanced" menu. The final step will be setting Lithuanian fonts in all the windows.

Adjustment of "Forté Agent" program will require more efforts. First it should be installed using the appropriate code table. After that Lithuanian language as an additional language should be set and finally the required coding table should be selected in several menus. After all this hardship there will be no problems sending and receiving mails in ISO 8859-13 coding.

"Linux" environment programs use ISO 8859-13 coding. Among them are and electronic mail programs. Due to it there are more electronic mail programs suitable for Lithuanian language. Those are the popular programs "Pine", "Mutt", less known "Balsa" (the latter has been translated to Lithuanian). To adjust them for Lithuanian language it is enough to set the appropriate coding and to select the desirable Baltic font.

 

The most popular programs that are capable to send e-mails in "Windows-1257" coding

Various versions of "Microsoft Outlook Express" program are very popular in "Windows" environment. To adjust them to the "Windows-1257" coding one will have to devote a few minutes and to change a lot of settings.

In the first versions of "Microsoft Outlook Express 5" there was a code table selection mistake, but it has been fixed in newer versions and now it works perfectly.

There is a possibility to adjust "Microsoft Outlook 98" in a similar way. Nevertheless it is not the same with "Microsoft Outlook 2000". We would advise not to use it for electronic mail unless the manufacturers fix a very disappointing mistake. This program is not able to decode and represent correctly e-mails that were sent using standard ISO 8859-13 coding.

Incoming e-mails created using inappropriate coding (neither ISO 8859-13, nor "Windows-1257") are the biggest problem for "Microsoft Outlook Express" or "Microsoft Outlook 98" users. When replying to such an e-mail the above mentioned programs can select inappropriate coding for outcoming mail. This is especially inconvenient if the reply goes to electronic mail or news group. To prevent this it is necessary to set the default coding and to ask all your corespondents to adjust their own e-mail programs.

"The Bat!" is gaining more and more popularity. It is quite easy to adjust it to Lithuanian language by downloading and installing the necessary (ISO 8859-13 and "Windows-1257") coding supplies.

The newest versions of "Netscape Communicator" (starting with 4.51) have the "Windows-1257"setting, however this setting is not working. If the "Baltic (Windows-1257)" coding is selected, the electronic mail will nevertheless be sent in the outdated ISO 8859-4 coding. Therefore it is necessary to set so called "User Defined" setting. In this case electronic message is sent using coding that is set in the computer, but no coding is defined in the mail header.

The browser "Netscape 6", which is still under development, contains electronic mail program "Netscape Mail". This program does not contain such mistakes and allows to select ISO 8859-13 coding as well. It is already possible to download and explore the demo version of this program.

From all the WWW e-mail service programs that we have examined several programs ("mail.centras.lt", "www.e-post.lt", "www.hotmail.com") store correct information about the electronic mail coding. Electronic mail service "mail.centras.lt" even allows to choose the wanted e-mail coding (among them ISO 8859-13).

 

How to adjust your electronic mail program?

All the electronic mail program adjustment (to Lithuanian language) instructions that were mentioned above can be found in the web site "The usage of Lithuanian characters in the electronic mail"(http://www.liks.lt/elpaliet.htm) and in the links suggested in this web site. The site is maintained by Lithuanian Computer Society's Learning Section. A lot of information about the problems of adjusting Lithuanian language to software can be found in the web site "Lithuanian language in the information technologies" (http://www.likit.lt).

 

Conclusions

Investigation, made on various e-mail programs, showed that there are no technical obstacles which could prevent using Lithuanian characters in e-mail.

Separate cases, when first tries to adapt e-mail failed, are connected to unwillingness of system administrators to solve this problem. It happens when users work in a local network and have no right to change appropriate settings.

At the moment only extremely qualified computer engineers can adjust computer to the user's needs. Some of them have to write in Lithuanian very rarely, so they are trying to persuade that it is impossible to correspond in Lithuanian (differently from other languages) and are tended to dictate their own primitive slangy writing style.

It is not the user that should adjust himself to software, but it is the software that should be adjusted to the needs of the user.