Firefox 3 Thaana display bug: review and fixes

Maldivians who use Firefox would be aware that certain Dhivehi websites, such as Miadhu Online, no longer display the Thaana fonts correctly when they switched to the recently released version 3 of the popular browser. I would like to review the issue for the benefit of Maldivian web developers and put forward some solutions that could be used. Further, I would also like to make available a fix that ordinary web users can themselves use until website owners (or the Firefox developers) fix the issue.

Problem description

Firefox 3.x series (and the 2.x series as well, to a lesser extent) fails in correctly displaying Thaana in web pages when certain non-Unicode Thaana fonts are applied to the elements using CSS. The same pages, however, render correctly without issue with Internet Explorer, Safari and Opera.

DOCTYPE - One contributing factor seems to be the DOCTYPE of the page. My guess is that this issue may have something to do with quirksmode rendering or standards compliance. The lack of a DOCTYPE in the markup gives correct rendering of the Thaana fonts on the page. However, omission of the DOCTYPE cannot and should not be considered a solution as DOCTYPE is required for most page markup and browsers need the correct DOCTYPE specification to correctly render modern pages.

Font - Another factor seems to be the font file used. The Thaana characters fail to be rendered correctly when almost all of the commonly used Thaana fonts, such as A_Faseyha, A_Waheed and A_Randhoo, are used. However, some fonts do work without issue - A_Ilham for example.

Here are some demo pages to highlight the issues. Each of the pages has three lines of Thaana - first of which is Thaana text enclosed in a font tag specifying a (problematic) Thaana font, the second is a H3 headline which has the font family set to a (problematic) Thaana font using CSS alone, the third is again a H3 headline which has the font family is set to a (problematic) Thaana font using CSS but has the text placed inside a font tag and finally the fourth line has a H3 headline whose font family is set to a (working) Thaana font using CSS alone.
View Thaana on page with: no DOCTYPE, HTML 4.01 DOCTYPE and XHTML 1.0 DOCTYPE.

Developer's fix

There are two definite solutions that can be easily applied by web developers.

Solution 1: Add HTML Font tags around any and all text that is to be displayed in Thaana. Specify the font to be used within the "face" attribute of the Font tags as usual. The flip-side of this method is that it results in a significant increase in page size. Haveeru News seems to have addressed the problem using this method. Here's a example:
bwlimIhunc aufulunc 

should be transformed into 

bwlimIhunc aufulunc

Solution 2: Change font used in the CSS definition to "A_Ilham". It is, perhaps, not as clean and pretty as "A_Faseyha" but until there is a fix to Firefox it will have to do.

A further alternative solution would be for the site owners and developers to take this occasion to shift to Unicode Thaana. It is much more reliable and is the currently recommended method of displaying Thaana on the web. Jazeera Daily, Haama Daily and MvHeadlines, to name a few, are all using Unicode for text display and entry. You can utilize the PHP-based Thaana Conversions class I released to convert the existing non-Unicode Thaana text to Unicode - and you can do such conversion on-the-fly on page requests.

User's fix

I wrote a quick bookmarklet-based solution several weeks ago for my use after getting annoyed with having to open Internet Explorer to view pages from sites affected by this bug. This solution will, or rather should, work on any affected site and on any computer.

Simply right click on this link - Jaa's Thaana Fix - and select "Bookmark this link" from the drop-down menu. Alternatively, you can drag and drop the link onto your bookmarks toolbar. When you are on a page that is messed up by the bug, such as Miadhu Online, Vaikaradhoo Live or Kavaasaa, click the "Thaana fix" link on your Bookmarks menu or toolbar. You will need to do this for each page you view.

Happy reading :-)

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