Muthu.Nedumaraan: The pioneer who made it easy to input Tamil text in Computers

Muthu.Nedumaran, who I meet over a casual coffee table conversation at a five star hotel in Chennai, speaks with a certain assuredness and calm on the opportunities that lay ahead for Tamil language computing. Some of the things he says shock too – “As an industry, we have been completely blind to the requirement of the masses.”

But the words coming as they are from easily one of the pioneers of not just Tamil but all Indic language computing, and a man who is privy to world’s biggest technology companies makes one want to sit up and listen.

(Muthu Nedumaran’s Tamil language input software Sellinam power mobile devices of Apple and HTC and has over 1,20,000 users all over the world. Many who have followed Tamil computing over the years see the Tamil input integration into iOS 7, Apple’s latest mobile operating system, as a tipping point that is one of the biggest leaps forward in terms of enabling users operate devices in their mother tongue.)

One of the founders of International Forum for Information Technology in Tamil (INFITT), a respected forum of Tamil computing developers, and a person with over three decades of experience in Tamil computing, Muthu.Nedumaran is a respected voice in technology circles. I met him when he was in Chennai for a brief stop over recently before proceeding to Coimbatore to attend the “Thaayagam Kadantha Tamizh” conference organised by the Centre for Tamil Culture.

When I poke him with a fairly straightforward “where is it (tamil computing) headed now” question, he gets candid. “We have not even started,” he tells me. “Forget addressing today’s or tomorrow’s needs. I think as a community of Tamil language computing developers, we have not even properly addressed yesterday’s needs.”

“I have been involved with Tamil computing for over thirty years now, and we have always looked at Tamil computing as something that ‘we’ would see it. By we, I mean people who have hunger for knowledge. We think people who are vernacular users also seek the same. But I don’t think that is the case,” he says. “And Sellinam has proved me wrong.”

A bulk of 1,20,000 users of the Sellinam Tamil input users, in fact, come from Tamil Nadu, and a lot of them are using it for very basic reasons. Like reaching out to their loved ones, or sending out simple communications. And not for very sophisticated usage.

There is a lot of chatter about advanced tools like optical character readers, text to speech engines and so on. But Mr.Nedumaran says that the most basic need – that of enabling people to be able to input words in his mother tongue – is only just being met in the Indian scenario. To him, those are the primary drivers of Tamil and other language computing right now.

Having extensive experience in working out computing solutions in the Indo-Chinese countries, he contrasts the scenario of Tamil speaking population of India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and other countries to that of a smaller demographic of Vietnamese. “Since they don’t know English at all, mobile phones and other gadgets have always had Vietnamese language interface in them for several years now. They have gone past basic needs long ago,” he says. “Unfortunately, the device manufactures catering to the Tamil speaking world never deemed it necessary until now to provide them with simple and easy to use tools.”

Nedumaran has been working on input method editors for several years now. He originally developed the Murasu Anjal suite of software tools, that helped create, edit, convert and publish Tamil content as early as 1985. Apple included Murasu Anjal as part of its Mac OS operating system in the year 2004. (For a list of his achievements benchmarked over the years see box).

The Malaysian national seems most excited about the past two or three years in terms of reach through the mobile devices. He sees a vast potential in terms of what could be achieved.

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Long list of achievements

In a career spanning over three decades in Tamil and other language computing, Muthu. Nedumaran has hit the marquee repeatedly with his path-breaking software.

1985 – Launches ‘Murasu Anjal’ suite of software tools for Tamil publishing as a hobbyist.

1991 – Publishes ‘Murasu Anjal 5’ for Windows 3 platform

2004 – Mac OS integrates Murasu Anjal input

2006 – Launches language and content services in various countries, including India, for mobile service providers

2010 – Developed Indic and Indo-chinese fonts in 13 scripts. The fonts were licensed to Apple and bundled into both Mac OS and iOS.

2011 – Licensed all Indic fonts and Android input methods to HTC

2012 – Added prediction to Hindi and Tamil input. Launched Sellinam as a free App in Android and iOS

2013 – Launched Selliyal, a Tamil and English news App, for iOS and Android. On route to making it the first App to push notifications in Tamil.

The article appeared in The Hindu dated January 27, 2014

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