Any Internet user with any more than a passing interest in the Russian-speaking world will have surely browsed a web page or Newsgroup posting that is full of totally incomprehensible characters (And I don't mean the Russian alphabet!).

The problem is that Russian (And most of the Slavic languages) do not use the same alphabet and characters as the "Latin" based languages (English, French, German etc). In an attempt to allow computers to work with these differing alphabets, developers used the, mainly unused, upper range of the ASCII character set (128 to 255) to represent the required characters. Various (incompatible) schemes were devised to do this, the most common being:

  1. Windows Cyrillic (Code Page 1251)
    Three different variants of KOI8 are used on the Internet (KOI8-R, KOI8-U, and ISO-IR-111). Many fonts use a character set that attempts to unify these variants by including all Cyrillic letters in their "standard" positions
  2. Internet Cyrillic (KOI8)
    Code Page 1251 was designed by Microsoft as the standard character set for use in Windows. This is probably the most widely used Cyrillic character set.
  3. Unicode
    Unicode is a new encoding standard that uses 16 bits of information to represent each character. It can (theoretically) represent all languages of the world, as well as a number of technical characters.

These encoding schemes are generally not installed by default, and must be added by (In Windows 9x, Me etc) using "Add/Remove Programs" - "Windows Setup", and checking "Multilanguage Support" under "Components". If you are using Windows XP, you can relax - this comes with Multilanguage Support installed by default.

This however is only part of the battle - you can now view Russian web pages and emails in their correct fonts, however you will not be able to type a reply or a form submission in Cyrillic characters. You will need to either purchase a Cyrillic Keyboard (Not easy!), or install some software that will convert your keystrokes into the appropriate characters.

This latter solution is the one that we favor, we would recommend "Cyrillic Starter Kit" by Fingertip Software. This is a shareware program and can be obtained from the developer's website at Cyrillic Starter Kit contains everything you need to begin using Cyrillic in your Windows applications.

We have put together a collection of links to some useful websites for anyone attempting to "Russify" their computers: Cyrillic fonts, codepage convertors, keyboard applets and others. Just click on "Cyrillic Links" on the menu at the left.

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