Migration of Arabic Label to Modern GIS Software.
Mohamed A. Eleiche and Sanaa Issa
Modern GIS systems are converging towards standardizations and interoperability. In the process of migrating GIS systems from traditional GIS systems established in the eighties and nineties to modern GIS systems, usually the data models, programs and user interfaces are reconstructed based on the new design of the system. The geospatial data is usually migrated according to the existing data model in traditional GIS system and the new data model in the modern GIS system. The traditional GIS systems did not have standard libraries for using Arabic language in map labeling. Special Arabic libraries were implemented to enable traditional GIS systems to use Arabic language, and huge amount of data were created using these libraries. When migrating to modern GIS systems, these geospatial data were imported into modern GIS systems from different GIS platforms. Unfortunately, the imported Arabic data (labels and text) are not readable (stored and displayed as random characters) on the modern GIS platforms. This paper introduces a reverse engineering methodology to correct the Arabic labels and text of the imported geospatial data into modern GIS systems.
The GIS (Geographic Information System) technology started in the early sixties in USA, EU and other regions. The GIS industry started while the IT (Information Technology) industry suffered from lack of standards. Early GIS systems were characterized by expensive hardware (mainly Main Frame), special operating systems, sophisticated GIS software, specific file formats for data storage and special programming languages. These GIS systems started to penetrate in Middle East in the early eighties, with the same characteristics. The traditional geospatial data were considered closed pools difficult to access or to share.
With these characteristics of traditional GIS systems, and under the necessity for mapping organizations around the world to adopt the GIS technology, those traditional systems started to spread.
The traditional GIS systems did not fulfill all the users' requirements, and the owners of these GIS systems started to add their needed requirements to commercial GIS softwares and systems they own.
Among these important GIS users requirements was labeling the text annotation in geospatial data with local languages. Unfortunately, this option was not available for earlier GIS systems. Regarding map labeling and text annotation, the English language and some other languages mainly based on Roman origin had pretty nice fonts and libraries to write and plot on digital maps, while other languages such as Arabic did not have a way to write Arabic labels or legends on their digital geospatial data. To overcome this obstacle, some special Arabic commercial libraries were created to write Arabic labels and text annotation on digital maps. Consequently, these special Arabic libraries were specific to the traditional GIS which formed their development and usage platform. These libraries were developed mainly to fulfill business requirements without standardization.
2. Problem Statement
These special Arabic libraries shared common characteristics, such as:
The library depends on the platform (Hardware & Software)
The library is used inside the GIS software only, not by other software on the platform
Once exported to another version or software, the Arabic data is lost and cannot be readable
No standards or industry specifications were applied in the development of these libraries
At that time, those libraries were efficient and doing their role: storing, querying, plotting Arabic labels and text annotation on digital maps.
Those Arabic libraries, after several years in the GIS market, ended with two conditions:
Condition 1: The producer of the library still maintains his library frequently, and produced a tool to convert it to modern GIS systems. This condition enabled the successful conversion of Arabic text annotation to modern GIS platforms such as those based on Microsoft windows.
Condition 2: The producer of the Arabic library stopped the maintenance and support of the product and announced it as deprecated and not-supported product, and here is the problem.
In Egypt for example, dozens of organizations used commercial libraries to create the Arabic labels and text on digital maps and the support for these commercial libraries ended and the problem of the conversion arose, because these data when imported to modern GIS systems the Arabic label is not readable at all.
Sample of Arabic Labels created by commercial font library on GIS under DOS operating system in 1993 By AlCahira Company, displayed as English Text when imported to modern GIS.