Monday, January 21, 2013

The Woes of a Technology Addicted Arabic Speaker

I am in the market for a new personal computer, as after two years of absorbing the Cairo dust and a year of analyzing data and cranking out el-wa7sh, my poor laptop has been announcing for the last few months it's desire to quit (or at least not run the gazillion programs I always have open all at once).  I (or rather my husband) have previously (maybe a year ago?) upgraded the hard drive and RAM, but it is still not happy.  There are also mysterious flecks in the screen that I attribute to some combination of cats and Cairo dust, and have resisted all of my screen cleaning attempts.

However, then there is the question of what computer to get? At work, I have a 27" iMac, which I love.  It has lots of hard drive space, and I can have have four or five programs (or windows of different programs) running side by side on a screen that size, which works very well for me.  The difficulty of course, is that it's not portable, and then what would I do for conferences, travel and the like.  In all honestly, I'd like to just travel with my iPad, but there are currently no iPad apps I can find that can support the basic things I do every day for teaching and research, which include features such as:

1) Right to Left formatted tables (no, not just the text, but the whole table).
2) Right to Left bullets in powerpoint

Google docs, for example, is great if I am online, but alas, if I am traveling, I am likely to want to do stuff offline.  Another trick is that my teaching materials in particular have to be sharable with Microsoft users, which means the tables, etc have to convert nicely.  This is the reason that I run Microsoft in a virtual machine on my current laptop--while there are word processors that support Arabic very well on the Mac (i.e. Mellel) they are crap when converting things like tables with colors and highlights to Word.  In contrast, something like Pages, that can convert tables nicely is crap when it comes to supporting Arabic.  My presentations don't need to be shared, but they do need to support Arabic.  Given Keynote's lack of Arabic support on the Mac, it seems unlikely that it will be supported on the iPad, and the only office iPad app I found that said it did support RTL had terrible reviews in the app store.

So, it seems that at least for now, I need a laptop to travel.  My ideal solution would be to get an iMac and Macbook Air, but that is way out of the budget.  I could also get a Macbook Pro and a nice screen, but that is also a lot if I want a screen like my iMac.  Since I spent a lot of time daily with this screen, quality is important to me (this is also the reason I refuse to just purchase a PC computer).

So, at least for now, relying on the iPad for travel seems unlikely.  So then I started thinking, well if I had an iMac, I would be able to work from home, and I could just try to pare down things on my laptop and use it just for travel, and perhaps it will be happier.  One of the things it objects to the most is running the virtual machine, but I need to do these fancy word processing things in Arabic, and this is the root of all of this trouble (thanks, Microsoft, for your steadfast refusal to support RTL on the Mac, which would solve all of my problems).  So, as I do from time to time, I revisited the Office options on Mac, hoping that this time one of them would support opening and editing my teaching documents created in Word for PC, creating documents able to be opened and edited in Word for PC, and creating/opening/editing Powerpoints.  This would allow for the removal of the virtual machine from my laptop, which would mean I could actually accomplish something without it freezing whenever I try to edit anything.  My laptop made some very unhappy noises while all of this testing was going on, but here are the results:

Word Processing:
Attempting to open my 102 Weekly Schedule (a document that contains highlighted text,  a mix of Arabic and English, RTL numbered lists, and RTL tables with assorted color-coded fills):

Pages: letters disconnect (although changing the font will fix this), no RTL support
Mellel: RTL support is fine, but table loses all of its coloring 
TextEdit: RTL is okay, but no table support, and table loses all of its coloring
Google Docs: perfect support, but not sure about offline editing
Nisus Writer: flips the table in reverse, can't find a way to make the whole table RTL
LibreOffice: letters disconnect (although changing the font will fix this), flips the table in reverse, can't find a way to make the whole table RTL, RTL support seems rather limited
Open Office: Victory! It seems that since I last did this run through there is now an Open Office version native to Mac (there wasn't in the past), which does all the RTL stuff I need, opens my docx document perfectly, and makes my laptop considerably happier to run.  The only potential problem is that it saves with doc, not docx files, but as far as I know, I don't use any docx features, so this is fine.  

Slide Shows:
Attempting to open my most recent conference presentation, in Arabic, with tables, graphics, RTL bullets, notes, and animations
Keynote: This program is a disaster with Arabic--no RTL bullets, if you click on an Arabic word to edit, it starts editing a few characters over, not RTL text direction choice, enough said
Google Docs: See word processing
LibreOffice: See word processing (tables are important in slide shows too!)
Open Office: Victory again! See above, and I don't think I use any pptx features.  I guess the moral of this story is to just keep visiting these programs every few years hoping they've updated to support what you want.  

I will have to experiment with Open Office for Mac a bit more before I commit to the idea of removing Microsoft from my laptop entirely, but it seems that finally, finally, there may be a viable solution.  There is even spell check for Arabic!  

Dreaming of working from home on a nice iMac with a snuggly 2uTa on my lap, I bit the bullet and went to order the new iMac, only to find out it is on a 3-4 week shipping delay.  Ya weel!

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