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Computers and Arabic


Getting started

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:

Enabling International Support in Windows XP

Enabling International Support in Windows 2000

Mac users can get information about Arabising their computer here:

The Arabic Macintosh: an informal resource centre

Linux/UNIX users should check here:

Langbox International.

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:




World Language

Solution 3: Arabic keyboard

A more permanent solution is to buy an Arabic-English keyboard. 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:

Arabic Keyboards (US)

Datacal (US)

Fingertipsoft (US)

Languagesource (UK)

Lingua (UK)

The Key Connection (US)

World Language (US)

Keyboard layouts

Just to confuse matters, there is more than one commonly used Arabic keyboard layout. The IBM website lists five 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.


In the computer section


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Last revised on 05 August, 2015