In other articles, I have discussed how to make a web page in Bangla and what resources (editing software and fonts) exist to write in Bangla. Hopefully, Bangla web pages will begin to spring up as the tools become disseminated and easier to use. So, how do you view a Bangla web page?
The first question is one of standards -- most specifically, the encoding type and font used by the web page. The good news is that an up and coming standard, unicode, will work for any language and that obtaining unicode fonts is not difficult.
The bad news is that many existing web pages are encoded in various standards that were not really made for Bangla. Before unicode caught on, a number of fonts were made in which the Latin letters were replaced by Bangla letters. The problems with this approach should be evident: first, there are more Bangla letters than Latin letters thanks to Bangla's ability to blend consonants together into new shapes (conjuncts or ligatures). Second, if you replace the Latin characters, they are no longer available, so the same font cannot be used for both character sets. Mixing Bangla and Latin characters in one document would present a problem. Third, a number of these fonts are proprietary. Finally, the viewer must have the font installed, or the screen will look like gibberish. Some websites get around the last point, by sending the font along with the web page. Whether this works or not depends on your browser and other system settings. It is a little invasive, since you are then stuck with a font that perhaps you would rather not have sitting on your hard drive, and which you might not use for any other application.
Rather than re-inventing the wheel every time a document is downloaded, the current trend is towards unicode-compliance. At present, even that option is frought with inconsistencies and compatability issues. Web pages written in unicode require that the browser have a font that supports the language in question. Every unicode font has "room" for Bangla fonts, but it is a lot of work to draw the characters of every language. Indeed, only one widely available font comes near this mark: Code2000. To add style to the page, additional fonts may also be required. Where unicode shines, though, is that the same fonts can be used by other web pages or in applications like word-processors on your computer.
At present, believe it or not, the best solution comes from Microsoft. The various flavors of the Windows operating system since Windows 2000, are intrinsically unicode-compliant. In the XP release of its operating system, Microsoft included Vrinda font, which includes Bangla characters. In the absence of other downloaded fonts, applications will use Vrinda font. Still, this does not solve the entire problem. Creating a block of Bangla text is more than having the right font installed: the application must correctly implement the unicode-defined rules for writing combinations of the characters to form words. Take a look at the following example. The web page is a vocabulary list related to words found in the news. I have overlapped pages from recent versions of (left to right) Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera and Mozilla Firefox.
This comparison was performed on a Windows-XP/Home machine with various unicode-compliant fonts installed. The document specified unicode-encoding, but no specific font, so all of the browsers defaulted to Vrinda. All but Internet Explorer demonstrated "open circle syndrome" where the browser displays a character-positioning outline that should not be visible. This occurs with more than the "ah-kar" character. However, for the most part conjuncts are correctly formed, so the other browsers do not have far to go.
A number of unicode fonts are available, see the fonts page for a full list and to check if you already have the fonts installed.
Setting up a MS-Windows machine to work with unicode Bangla depends on the version of Windows. Also, if you install other software like Bangla editors or keyboard drivers, you will have to make other adjustments. Generically, though, open the control panel (START->SETTINGS->CONTROL PANEL) and look at "Regional and Language Options". Under the "Languages" tab, select "support for complex scripts".
As far as I know, Mac/OS X is unicode compliant, but I have not heard feedback from Mac users about browsing Bangla websites. In theory, Internet Explorer should perform similarly on both the PC and Windows platforms. With the emergence of unicode-encoded Bangla open type fonts, most browsers should be able to display web pages which use those fonts on either a windows or MacOS machine.
After installing a standard linux package, Bangla web pages are not rendered well. As shown below, in Konqueror (right) each unicode element is represented by a box. Not very enlightening. Mozilla (left) does a slightly better job by writing the numerical "code point" value in each box. If you had a table and a lot of patience, you could figure out what it says in Bangla.
This does not reflect an inability of Linux to handle unicode. In fact, in some ways it is easier to implement unicode-aware applications under Linux. The fonts can not be blamed either. The appropriate fonts were installed and available to X-Windows on the machine which generated the above examples. An excellent tutorial on installing true type fonts is available from Linux.org.mt.