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Bijoy keyboard for mobile: A directive that doesn’t sound sound

AN OFFICIAL order for the installation of a keyboard layout package kit made stir on the media, and more on social media, in the past week. But it mostly made the right stir, perhaps, for wrong reasons.

Mobile manufacturers and importers received a letter on January 13 in which the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Authority asked them to mandatorily install the Bijoy keyboard layout application on all mobiles that run on Android before their marketing.

No mobile phone that runs on Android would be given no objection certificate for sales without the mandatory installation of the Bijoy layout package that allows users to write Bangla on mobile using the Bijoy layout, which Ananda Computers started marketing on December 16, 1988 for an ASCII-based glyph-mapped font to write Bangla that time. The layout has later been improved.

The letter, which has said that the directive would be in force in three working days of the issuance of the letter, has asked the manufacturers and importers of mobiles to collect the Android package kit for the Bijoy layout free from the spectrum division of the commission in three working days.

As the news did the round, it raised a furore and gave birth to fears presumably for concerns that such a use of the package could be for spying on citizens, especially when it is not open-source and there is no scope for independent experts to examine the code, or that the developer of the layout and the package could earn a huge amount of money with a ministerial decision forced on citizens.

While both of the propositions are valid, some information technology specialists said that the package installation does not require user permission to access the text, media or gallery on the device. This is good.

The minister for posts and telecommunications, which governs the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, later told the media that the package is free and there would be no adverts in it. And, this is not meant to earn the developer of the package or the layout a huge amount of money.

The minister is also reported to have wondered why the official directive has used the term ‘Bijoy’ to call the national keyboard layout. The Bangladesh Computer Council worked out a layout for national use in 2004 when there are a horde of layouts around. The horde of layouts still exists. The minister has rightly wondered at the use of the term ‘Bijoy.’

The standard, known as the Bangladesh Standard Specification for Computer Bangla Keyboard, or BDS 1738:2004, was later revised into BDS 1738:2018 after the Bangladesh Computer Council had approved it in 2017. The latest standard is, in fact, a replacement of the one that was adopted in 2004 with the Bijoy layout, modified on the 1988 layout to work with the all-pervasive Unicode encoding.

All this has spawned debates in both private and public circles and on the media and on social media. While people close to the ruling quarters or speaking in favour of the Bijoy layout say that it is only natural that if the government wants a Bangla keyboard layout bundled with every mobile running on Android, it would obviously be Bijoy, which is now a national standard. This is what the minister has said, too.

Almost the same set of people, and many of them apparently not knowing of any details, like to say that it is Bijoy because it is fully-fledged or the perfect. Such claims have little science in them. The Bijoy layout is neither the best nor fully-fledged. It is not logical in all aspects, either.

While it is almost impossible to work out the best or the perfect keyboard layout because of a large number of circumstantial factors, there could be layouts close to the best or the perfect one. The closer, the better.

The Bijoy layout is a national standard, with merits over some others and with some inherent demerits. A national standard does not always need to be perfect or the best. But it meets the requirements for common usability. There are occasions when national standards fail and people need to resort to better options available.

Keyboard layout design has its own science — seemingly simple: the most efficient finger should use the most used letter or character; or the other way round, the most used character should be assigned to the most efficient finger. Assignments between the fingers and keys based on a match of finger efficiency and letter use would naturally present a good working keyboard layout, with scopes for further improvement though.

The Bijoy layout is not the best or the perfect, because the three letter most used in Bangla text, as Unicode text is written, are ‘aa-kaar’, the sign for the second vowel, ‘e-kaar’, the sign for the eight vowel, and the consonant ‘ra’, all of which should be assigned to the most efficient fingers — either of the index or middle fingers, usually of the right hand.

The sign ‘aa-kaar’ is assigned to the left index finger on the home row, but the sign ‘e-kaar’ is assigned to the left middle finger and the consonant ‘ra’ to the left index finger, both down the home row. This means more movement of the fingers, slowing down the typing speed and causing tiredness early. Similar is the case with most of the letters and fingers on the keyboard layout. But, then, most people use keyboard layout on mobile with one or two fingers, not the way they use keyboard on other devices.

The layout is not also fully-fledged because the number of characters that are on the Unicode Bengali block is more than the number of letters assigned on the Bijoy layout. It will hold back people from accessing the letters left out on the keyboard directly from the Bijoy layout.

The layout is not logical because it allows users to directly write ‘ra-phala’, ‘ya-phala’ and ‘repha’ while there are more ‘phalas’ such as ‘na-phala’, ‘ma-phala’, ‘ba-phala’ or ‘la-phala’ which are not present on the keyboard. The layout does not go by the Unicode input system and discriminates other phalas against ‘ra-phala’ and ‘ya-phala’. It does not allow users to directly type ‘o-kaar’, which is a single symbol in Unicode, unlike in ASCII where it was a two-symbol combination.

What are, then, the reasons that called out the commission on making its installation mandatory on mobiles before sales? The minister is reported to have said that it is not mandatory that users should use the Bijoy layout app when they write Bangla on mobile. It is also immaterial what app or layout is used when the text is typed in Unicode Bangla. Bangla text written in Unicode remains unchanged across platforms, software, apps, layouts or fonts.

The minister is further reported to have said that users could use other apps and layouts; they can disable the app on the phone and even delete it; it is all up the users. Why has it, then, been made mandatory for manufacturers and importers, especially when users can download and install other apps to write Bangla off the net? The minister means to say that by doing so, the government fulfils its duty of providing users with an app free to write Bangla. This will leave no one to claim that the user has had no access to anything to write Bangla with.

But all this certainly points to an unethical practice. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, which has given the directive, has an issue, among all others, to attend to. It is meant to see that no one enjoys monopoly in the sector under its jurisdiction and it should break the monopoly of any sort it if takes place in the sector.

When the commission makes it mandatory for manufacturers and importers to install a certain app as a requisite to the sales of the product, the commission appears to be giving undue privilege to a certain product and company, pushing it forward towards enjoying monopoly. The commission appears standing in breach of its objectives.

People have sought to say there is no place for monopoly here as the product is free and no money is involved. There is no motive for profits, too. But non-profit monopoly also exists; and not everything could be assessed in terms of money, cost or price. Mark Zuckerberg lost more than $6 billion after a seven-hour outage of Facebook, which users play with free, in October 2021. Not everyone can define profit and not everyone knows what makes profits.

The Competition Commission, the statutory body that was set up in December 2012 to prevent, control and eradicate collusion, monopoly and oligopoly, combination or abuse of dominant position or activities adverse to the competition, should put its best foot forward to resolve the issue.

The decision, with an underlying thread, also purports to constitute a conflict of interest, Ananda Computers, the company that has developed, and marketed for other platforms, the Bijoy keyboard layout is founded by the minister for posts and telecommunications. He may not own it now, for the duration of his ministership, as the law allows him to wear either of the hats, of the head of the information technology firm and of the chief executive officer of the ministry, at a time. The law having been complied with, the official directive seen through the perspective of the conflict of interest still tends to border on propriety.


Akkas, Abu Jar M (2023 Jan. 20). A directive that doesn’t sound sound. New Age s4


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