Tango makes a good try at a tough task

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 August, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 August, 1997, 12:00am

The problem with language is that so many nations speak different ones. The Internet grew up in the United States, where they speak a form of English, the World-Wide Web was the idea of a British physicist in Switzerland. The French have reservations about the whole idea.

Still, nobody is holding a gun to the head of the Internet service providers around the world and demanding English-only content. There is a growing amount of non-Anglo content on the Web, and that is a good thing.

What happens, however, if you read a certain language but do not want your entire computer system to talk to you in it? If, for example, you can read Japanese and Chinese but would prefer your computer spoke to you in English, what would you do? Up to now, one of the best answers was to get a Macintosh. Apple's WorldScript is still the best multilingual option around and enables languages including Arabic, Japanese, Chinese and Russian to be put in the system.

Alis is a software firm that wanted to create an Arabic browser and then moved on to supporting other languages. Tango is both a browser and a Web page creator (depending on the version) for the Windows platform. It is especially good at being quite easy to install.

Tango does not touch the system, so you do not have to worry about disturbing the system-level files. This was long a problem for the Mac, different languages required different settings and there were many conflicts at first.

When you first log on to the Alis Web site, it splits into two frames, the one on the left contains a list of global sites in a range of languages. Double-clicking on a site will take you there and the language will be displayed quite nicely.

If, however, you go to a site that is not on the list, Tango will not switch automatically to the target language. As far as I am aware, there is no browser that automatically switches languages.

Tango performs fairly well when it comes to accessing Web pages. There are some small difficulties that make life a little awkward, however, and make using Tango for mail a bit of a bother.

I tried sending mail in Japanese and Chinese and had to give up eventually because of the number of settings that had to be changed.

For example, there is no one button or menu item that will change the language you are using.

With a product like Netscape, all you do is to go to a single menu and choose the language you want to use. That's it, done. Tango presents keyboard options, direction options for Arabic (right-to-left or left-to-right) and others.

The biggest problem with Chinese and Japanese is the encoding schemes. There are several for each and it ought, once again, to be a simple matter of selecting one.

Multilingual computing is not as easy as many people would like you to believe, and Tango tries to be a lot of things for a lot of people and half succeeds. That is something, I suppose.

PROS AND CONS Product: Tango, multilingual Web browser Price: Free demo version available from www.alis.com, full version is US$59.95 Tested on: Dell Dimension XPS H266 running Windows 95 Version 2 Pros: Handles most known languages on an English-language PC Cons: Browser often difficult to navigate, interface not intuitive, problems sending mail