In this post , I assume that you use Ubuntu (with English) and want to use it to read or write Tamil stuff. Hence , I discuss steps to view Tamil web pages and also edit files in Tamil. This post will not tell you how to get a localized Tamil version of Ubuntu.
Reading Web Pages in Tamil
This is the most common requirement. You have Ubuntu and you want to visit and read , say, Tamil newspapers or blog posts. To do that install the following packages :
sudo apt-get install language-support-fonts-ta ttf-tamil-fonts ttf-indic-fonts-core
These three packages should solve the problem of Tamil fonts from multiple websites. ttf-indic-fonts-core adds some popular Tamil fonts (in addition to other fonts for Indian languages) and ttf-tamil-fonts adds some more additional Tamil fonts.
Writing in Tamil
Writing in Tamil is done by adding Tamil keyboard layout to Ubuntu. If you are in a version before Natty (11.04), then use “System -> Preferences –> Keyboard” . If you are using Natty, then click on the power icon on the right hand top of the screen and select “System Settings”. In the settings dialog, choose Hardware tab and then select Keyboard. This will open up keyboard preferences menu.
Select the “Layouts” tab and click on Add . In the “Choose a Layout” dialog, go to the Language tab and select Tamil as the language. Choose your preferred variant . I have chosen “India Tamil Unicode”. Click “Add” to add the language.
If you notice, the top panel will automatically get the keyboard layout indicator which highlights the currently selected language. This selection is application specific . For eg, if you selected Tamil when typing in gedit and then went to say LibreOffice, you will be typing in your default language in LibreOffice. Initially this behavior is a bit confusing, but usually makes lot of sense in practice.
In the Layouts tab, click on Options and set an appropriate key combination in the entry “Key(s) to change layout”. I use “Shift+Caps Lock”. This is useful as otherwise , you need to key toggling in the keyboard indicator. If you are keyboard person, this is the best way to switch over all the languages in your layout. If there are multiple, then pressing “Shift+Caps Lock” cycles through your choices. The keyboard applet/indicator will change appropriately.
Unfortunately, most Tamil keyboard layouts are not mnemonic based and it takes quite a while to get used to. But once it starts working, it’s a great liberating feeling to type in another languages.
Since Linux has a great internationalization support, you can use Tamil for other purposes also. For eg, I use Tamil to name folders ! Or sometimes even write some personal stuff :) . Most applications including Nautilus has multilingual support and things should seamlessly !