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Preeti vs Unicode: Why Use Unicode?


February 03, 2021
Last updated February 10, 2022
Preeti vs Unicode: Why Use Unicode?
KMC Lalitpur


Why use Unicode?

  • Prevent data corruption;
  • Maintain support for all platforms from a single text encoder;
  • Can be converted to and from any other encoding standard, as Unicode is the superset of all other common characters;
  • Easier to learn and be accustomed to, as there is only one standard to deal with. 

Why not use Preeti or any other Non-Unicode Nepali font? 

  • Preeti and other Nepali fonts only work if the particular font is available to the computer system;
  • It’s quite a tedious job to practice and remember the keyboard layout for Non-Unicode fonts, and it becomes infuriating when different fonts have different character mapping;
  • May lead to data corruption;
  • Difficulty to maintain universal search and multiplatform support.

What is a font?

A font is a set of characters designed with the same size, pitch, and spacing. Font helps to maintain the universality of how typefaces are represented on various digital platforms. 

There are various kinds of fonts, and each font has a unique characteristic and purpose. Picking the right font is confusing, especially for languages other than English. For the Nepali language, the available font choices are Non-Unicode fonts (Preeti, Kantipur, etc.) and the Unicode Fonts (Nirmala UI, Mangal, etc.). 

What is Unicode? 

In computer systems, characters are converted to and stored as a set of binary bits: 0s and 1s. The characters are converted to binary numbers through a specific set of rules, known as encoding schemes. Traditionally, the encoding schemes contained only 256 characters, and the world was overwhelmed by an enormous number of different encoding schemes. Each encoding schemes were created for different languages and to meet the different kinds of need. The traditional rule-sets were compact, took less storage space, but were insufficient to hold characters of languages like Chinese and Japanese. 

In an attempt to build a single encoding system, Unicode was born. It's large, consumes more storage space, but contains characters from all languages, including Nepali. The first version of Unicode was released in 1991 AD. 

Download Preeti Font here.

How do fonts work?

A font serves the purpose of representing the regular characters with the one designed and crafted by its creator using font editing tools such as Fontographer (now replaced by Fontlab). 

Figure 1: Letter 'A' when typed in Monotype Corsiva (left) and Times New Roman (right) Fonts.

Since a font is a set of characters designed in a specific but custom way, the underlying character will be the same but in the text editor (Microsoft Word, Google Docs, etc.) that character will be represented the way it was designed and curated in the font.

How is Preeti different from Unicode?

Preeti is one of the most popular fonts of the Nepali language. It was created by Ajay Mishra and was named after her daughter Preeti Mishra. It's also believed that Preeti is the first computer font made for the Nepali Language. 

Preeti Font is not actually a Nepali Font but pretends to be one. It renders the English character as a Nepali character.

Figure 2: Letter 'A' when typed in Preeti Font 

The text typed with Preeti font will appear as random characters when copied and pasted to any other text editor or text-box (chat-box of Messenger, Facebook post, etc.) that doesn't support 3rd party font or lacks support for font formatting at all.

Figure 3: The phrase "सन्चै हो ?" written in Microsoft Word (Left) with font sent to Preeti and same text copied to Messenger's Chatbox (Right)

Messenger and many other applications don't support Preeti font by default. It can be done manually but is limited to a text editor or text reader — such as Word and Acrobat — that supports font formatting unless it is embedded by default in applications. This is where Unicode comes into play.

How is Unicode different from Preeti? 

As Unicode is a superset of characters from all languages, the characters are designed individually. The font which is based on Unicode will have designs for each individual character.

Nirmala UI is a Unicode font. If opened in Fontlab, it will show characters from both English and Nepali alphabets, which Preeti doesn't.

Figure 4: Character Map of Nirmala UI (left) and Preeti (right) font in Fontlab 7.

Also, we can see that characters in Nirmala UI have their own unique identifiers. English alphabets and regular punctuations are identified as it is and other characters including Nepali are identified by a unique code. This code is known as Unicode Identifiers. While in the Preeti, characters are identified by English alphabets and regular punctuations.

Figure 5: Nepali letter क  in Nirmala UI Font.

And if we open up the Nepali letter क from the Nirmala UI font in Fontlab,  we can observe that it has its own design and is not a disguised render of any English character, as shown in figure 5. 

Let’s type the phrase "सन्चै हो  ?" using the Nirmala UI font. 

Figure 6: The phrase "सन्चै हो ?" written in Microsoft Word (Left) with font sent to Nirmala UI and same text copied to Messenger's Chatbox (Right)

This time the text is as it is in the messenger chat box because it supports Unicode characters.

Since many Nepali fonts, including Preeti font, behave differently, it’s not possible to maintain and support every Nepali font, so apps use Unicode Nepali Characters. Unicode provides a universal text encoding format that includes every character, irrespective of the platform, device, application, or language. Thus, it becomes easier to support and maintain the applications.

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