Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why No Mac Browser Support for Vertical Text?

The ability to display webpage text in vertical format is highly desirable for Chinese, Japanese, and possibly other languages. Recently I checked Safari 4.0.3, FireFox 3.5.2, and Opera 9.64 and found that they still cannot do this in OS X, using this test page.

Same failure for Google Chrome.

I understand that Win IE (starting with version 5.5) is the only browser which has this feature.

Can it really be so difficult?


Andrew West said...

And IE8 onwards has support for vertical layour progressing left-to-right, which as you know is what is needed for Mongolian, Manchu and Phags-pa. It is a constant source of annoyance for me that none of the other browsers (Firefox, Chrome, ...) can handle vertical text layout. If even Microsoft can manage it, how hard can it be?

E. Pyatt said...

This may be a standards war in progress.

Microsoft uses its own CSS attribute to implement vertical text in IE.

However, I think the other developers are attempting to wait for the W3C to implement vertical text attributes and specs in CSS 3. Hence not even Firefox for WIndows has vertical text. Right now the vertical text area is password protected.

The upshot is that vertical text may be possible on the Mac but Apple may not be wanting to use a Microsoft spec/

The same issue has also affected MathML. Firefox MathML (based on the W3C spec) is different from and incompatible with the Microsoft version in IE. You have to use scripting to switch between the two.

I'm surprised this has taken so long but this appears endemic to the system.

Tom Gewecke said...

E. Pyatt -- Thanks for that info! It seems like the basics of this may have been already pretty well settled back in 2003, however.

Smokey Ardisson said...

I’m sure it’s not exactly trivial, particularly when all of your text layout code is optimized for, and full of assumptions for, LTR text in horizontal runs. After all, something “simple” like WebKit bug 6148[1] is still open. (Though to be fair, CoreText supports this and ATSUI does not, so it should be “easier” to fix once 10.4 support goes away in WebKit; I believe vertical text is only available in CoreText, also.)

The one thing I will say for Microsoft, though, is that because of its desire/need to maintain a worldwide (“universal”) operating system monopoly in the face of strengthening competition, it does (“has to”) invest in internationalization and localization activities that are not cost-effective (and are therefore usually much lower priority) for other vendors.

[1] WebKit doesn't shape characters (like Arabic) across style changes,

Magnus Lewan said...

My guess is that it is not perceived as a big problem any more. The Japanese and Chinese may have got used to horizontal text in browsers.

Any widely accepted solution would have to take a stance on long texts. Do you use the horizontal scrollbar and hide text to the left in a newly opened window, like you hide text on the bottom with horizontal text? Or do you impose some shorter segments, so each chunk of text is max x pixels tall? Or do you allow text to flow down several pages in long single lines? The last solution would definitely make it difficult to read, if you have to scroll back up several pages to get to the next column.

Then you have things like if Arabic numbers like "12" shall be written horizontally in a vertical text or horizontally.

Then, should inserted Latin text be rotated 90 degrees, or should it simply be one character above the other.

Then, there is the issue with furigana and different kinds of links between the furigana and the text it describes.

Then, there is bopomofo-like furigana, which I think is handled in a slightly different way. Isn't it often squares of four bopomofo?

Considering that choices have to be made, a lot of Japanese and Chinese web designers may say to themselves that it is much easier to just stick to horizontal text without furigana, where there already are established solutions.

It is different with books and manga, where there already is a standard how one shall treat vertical text, and here there is a clear need to implement vertical text. Here Apple definitely lags behind with iWork compared to MS Office and Adobe products.