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The Goods | CYBURBIA

Putting the Accent on World Wide Access

May 21, 1996|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Like most international endeavors, the Internet uses English as its primary language. This is probably because the big I had its origins in the United States and because of our reluctance, compared with other nations, to learn multiple languages.

And there are technical barriers. Netscape and most other World Wide Web browsers have a tough time with languages that do not use the Latin alphabet. For example, if you are surfing along with Netscape and come across a page written in Chinese characters, it will probably look like a garbled jumble of letters, numbers and symbols.

In the past, the only way around this was to use a special Mac or Windows program set up to read a specific language. Or the creator of a Web page could go through the trouble of setting up each Chinese, or other, character as its own little graphic, and therefore make it accessible to all.

But two new browsers now justify the "World" part of World Wide Web.

Internet with an Accent, created by the Israeli company Accent Software, is not as easy to use or as sophisticated as Netscape. But, with the click of a button, it will allow you to see pages using non-Latin alphabet text in the way they were meant to be seen.

To test it, I called up the home page Elvis World, a tribute that is mostly in Japanese. Using a regular browser, the name Elvis Presley looked like GBXEvX[. But using Internet with an Accent and choosing Japanese as my "character set," the jumbled letters almost instantly transmogrified into Japanese script.

Knowing English only will still get you through most of the Web. Many pages originating in countries that don't use the Latin alphabet offer English text versions. But there are sites that can be accessed only in the original language.

Internet with an Accent also allows the user to compose and read mail in non-Latin alphabets, and it can be used to help create multilingual Web pages.

Thankfully, the browser can be downloaded for free. The location of the Internet with an Accent site is http://www.accentsoft.com. The company hopes Web users find the browser so valuable that they will buy the commercial version ($99), which comes with an instruction book and the right to use the product's help line. And the company hopes the free browser will lead to sales of its other software products.

Internet with an Accent is available only for Windows, but a Macintosh version should be ready later this year. Also, the company says it hopes to soon have a version available as a Netscape plug-in, which would make the world's most popular browser truly multilingual.

A newer, similar product is Tango, developed by a Alis Technologies in Montreal. It's more limited than Internet with an Accent; the only non-Latin alphabet languages it reads are those that use the Cyrillic alphabet, such as Russian. But its developers say its scope will soon be widely increased.

Tango does have a cool feature that allows you to change all the labels on the browser's windows and buttons (such as File, Exit, Save As, etc.) into a language other than English.

Tango is available for free for downloading but only in a 30-day demo version. The address is http://www.alis.com. The commercial version lists for $39.95.

* Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

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