Adapting a PC to work in Arabic or other
right-to-left languages used to be a complicated business,
often involving the purchase of special software. Nowadays it
is a lot simpler, especially if you have one of the newer
versions of Windows, such as XP or Windows 2000.
To set up these versions of Windows for
using Arabic you need to make some adjustments via the Control
Panel. A helpful
article by al-Husein Madhany of Chicago University
explains the various options and how to do it. The Microsoft
website also provides step-by-step guides with screen shots:
International Support in Windows XP
International Support in Windows 2000
Mac users can get information about
Arabising their computer here:
The Arabic Macintosh: an informal
Linux/UNIX users should check here:
An alternative approach is to use the
Roman alphabet for inputting Arabic text and data in such a
way that it can eventually be printed out in the Arabic
alphabet. Two systems in use here are ArabTeX
and the Buckwalter
Transliteration. These are discussed further in al-Bab's
article on Arabic
words and the Roman alphabet.
Before you can type anything in Arabic you need to know
where the relevant letters are on the keyboard.
Solution 1: Visual keyboard
A small picture of a keyboard pops up on
the screen which you can refer to while typing. Alternatively,
you can input text (very slowly) by clicking characters on the
pop-up. Microsoft provides a visual keyboard which
can be downloaded here.
Some software products (e.g. Arabic word processors) also come
with their own visual keyboard.
Solution 2: Keyboard stickers
Sometimes known as "overlays",
these are bought in sets and attached individually to each
key. Before attaching these to your keyboard it is worth
checking that the positions match the keyboard mapping of your
software, because there can be variations. Suppliers include:
Solution 3: Arabic keyboard
A more permanent solution is to buy an
They can be bought outside the Middle East but tend to be cheaper in
the Arab countries
because the demand for them is greater. Suppliers include:
Key Connection (US)
Just to confuse matters, there is more
than one commonly used Arabic keyboard layout. The IBM website
different versions for Arab countries.
The basic choice is between Arabic
101 and Arabic
102 (these numbers refer to the number of keys). The main
difference is in the position of the letter dhal, which
is on the far left above the tab key in the 101 version and on
the far right in the 102 version. For bilingual use, the 102
keyboard can be bought with its Roman letters in the normal
English QWERTY arrangement or the French AZERTY
arrangement which is favoured in North Africa.
Naturally, it takes time and practice to
become familiar with an Arabic keyboard. For this reason, some
people prefer a keyboard layout that allows them to type
phonetically (B = ba, T = ta, etc). The system
is not totally phonetic (see
example) because some letters have no equivalent in the
Roman alphabet, but it can make typing a lot easier. Some
Arabic word-processing software, such as Global
Writer, comes with phonetic typing as a built-in option.
An alternative is to use this free download
or to create
your own keyboard layout.