ISO-8859-1 problems -- problems with non-Western text

The page you just viewed could not be displayed correctly because it contained non-Western characters. There should probably have been displayed Cyrillic characters. Instead of beautiful Cyrillic letters, you were probably either seeing interrogative signs, like ?????? ??? ??????????????? ???  or very odd latin letters, like Ç·‚ ‚ÚÓ*ÌËÍ ?ÏÂ*ËÍ?ÌÒÍË?Ú Ô*ÂÁˉÂÌÚ ÑÊÓ*‰Ê ì. ÅÛ¯, or worse: long lines on an otherwise empty page (in Opera).

Don't worry. This page gives you some guidelines for workarounds.

But first some general stuff: ISO-8859-1 is an international encoding, originally meant for displaying West European languages. This contrasts the ASCII setup of the first computers that employed only characters used in English. With the ISO-8859-1 standard you can write documents in languages with diacritics and ligatures of West Europe, such as Castilian, French, German, etc. This standard is flanked by ISO-8859-2 for Central European (Czech, Slovak, Polish, Hungarian, Slovenian), ISO-8859-4 for Baltic (Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian), ISO-8859-5 for Cyrillics (Russian, Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian), ISO-8859-6 for Arabic, ISO-8859-7 for Greek, ISO-8859-8 for Hebrew, etc.

The emergence of competing standards (by Windows, Macintosh, Unicode, and local linguists around the world) has meant more pressure on ISO-8859-1, and browsers can now view additional characters. They can now also display texts with the newest version of ASCII, i.e. where the characters are assigned numeric values. This has been the case of the document you were just viewing. It contained text passages in one of the non-Roman languages.

Advice for Macintosh users | Advice for Windows users


Apple Macintosh

1. Do you have the right (e.g., Cyrillic) fonts?

Of course, you cannot view the pages correctly unless you have installed correct fonts in your Macintosh. Make sure that they are installed!
    Not all fonts can be used. There were invented a lot of non-standard fonts and typesets in the old days before file sharing (like on the Internet). If you are not certain which Cyrillic fonts can be used, view my list of compatible fonts.

2. Did you allow your browser to exploit your non-Western (e.g., Cyrillic) fonts?

For guidelines, go to my explanation Cyrillifying your web browser. The explanation also holds for Greek, Central European, Turkish.

3. Did you allow the web page author to decide what fonts you should use?

Sometimes, there may be discrepancies of font usage. More often than the opposite, a web page author defines what font he wants the browser to exploit for displaying the HTML documents. Web page authors love to do that in order to take control over your screen. However, their efforts may not always coincide with the fonts you have installed in your computer. To avoid this conflict, you should take full control of the fonts by "using your own fonts, overriding the page specified fonts" in the Preferences/Settings.
In Netscape (the following instructions are for Netscape Communicator 7) go to menu Edit > Preferences. Select Appearance > Fonts. Unselect Allow users to use other fonts.
    Click OK.

4. Did you set the browser to display the page in another Encoding?

Make sure that the browser's character settings are for ISO-8859-1.

5. Can your browser display the non-Western text at all?

Some world wide web browsers work better than others. Some browsers require more recent Operating Systems.
In this case of Cyrillic in ISO-8859-1 encoded pages, I recommend Microsoft Internet Explorer v4 and above.

iCab displays the non-Western passages correctly in ISO-8859-1 only in Macintosh Operating System 9 and above (with Apple Language Kit installed).

Netscape and Mozilla display Cyrillic letters correctly (providing that you follow the above outlines) from version 3 and ahead. However:

  1. In Macintosh Operating Systems 8.6 and earlier, Netscape cannot be used.
  2. In Macintosh Operating Systems 9 and later, only Netscape version 6 and above should work. This may have something to do with Netscape 6-7 being dependent on Apple Language Kit, which is a free installation option for System 9, but not in earlier systems (OS 8.6 and earlier).

Microsoft Internet Explorer works at version 4.5, probably also at version 3. 

Check out which operating system your Mac can bear to run:
System 7.1 through Mac OS 7.6: Compatibility With Macintosh Computers (AppleCare Document 8970)
Mac OS 8-9 Compatibility With Macintosh Computers (AppleCare Document: 25114)

Microsoft Windows

Most probably you did not install support for East European languages. This is an option when installing Windows (in European languages) on your PC. If you use Windows 3, I cannot give you any clue. For later versions (in this case Windows 95 and 98):

I have also noted problems making Netscape Communicator before version 6 for Windows work correctly with ASCII text. If you use, e.g., Netscape 4.6, do not hesitate to upgrade. Also, this site employs the state-of-the-art XHTML and CSS technologies. They can have catastrophic results in older versions of Netscape, but quite benevolent results in modern browsers, including portabale desktop accessories (PDA's). Sorry, but this site is forward compatible only. |

Mozilla is the continuation of Netscape, whose further development was cancelled in September 2003. The major difference is the chat feature, by which Netscape is linked to AOL. My site is targeted for Mozilla browsers.

If installing Windows language support or upgrading has not the desired effect, please proceed to the procedure for Macintoshes above.

Written on January 21, 2004
Updated on 28 September, 2004.
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