Code War: Myanmar’s final digital battle ends

Yangon, Sept 27 (AFP/APP):Accessing everything from Wikipedia to Google Maps in Myanmar is about to get a lot easier when it finally adopts the universal code underpinning phone and online communication next week.

Tech experts say the move to bring the country more in step with the rest of the digital world is crucial, but will cause “chaos” in a rocky transition period.

Myanmar is the last nation to embrace unicode that has significant numbers of people online. Without it, most users see international content — and a lot from within the country — as lines of meaningless symbols.

Household name websites can be impossible to read while translation and voice recognition software do not work.

October 1 is “U-Day”, when Myanmar officially adopts the new system. From then on, all electronic communication from government offices, telecoms companies, banks and media must be in Unicode by law.

Myanmar became a global code anomaly due to isolation under its former military junta.
Microsoft and Apple helped other countries standardise years ago, but Western sanctions meant Myanmar lost out.

IT pioneer Zaw Htut, 47, describes this as the final battle won in a decades-long code “war”.
“This is like changing to democracy,” he enthuses.
However, making the switch to Unicode will be a turbulent ride, and he warned that initially there will be “chaos”.

Facebook — the main social media platform in the country — has developed automatic conversion software to give users a “seamless experience”, says strategic response team member Sarah Oh.
But many will suddenly be unable to read messages on other apps and from banks or phone operators, while those who switch will no longer be able to communicate with friends still using the old system.