George Washington University


First, a little warning: Many of the links in this document are to sites over which the GW Slavic Department has no control. We update these links occasionally, but we cannot help you if something goes wrong.

If you use Windows 98, ME, 2000, or XP, go immediately to Cyrillicizing Windows.

If you already know some of the pitfalls of Cyrillicizing your computer, skip the explanation below and go directly to one of the following sites:

GENERAL SITES (Macintosh, Windows, Unix)

If terms such as “Unicode,” “code page,” “KOI8,” “CP 1251,” and keyboard remapping sound like kitayskaya gramota, then read on.
Cyrillicizing a PC or a Macintosh should be easy. Just add in a Cyrillic font and be done with it, right? Well, some people do just that, and that’s usually where the problems begin. You see, there’s very little standardization in the way of Cyrillic fonts. As a result, you may successfully Cyrillicize your own computer and write a document in Cyrillic. But assume that you give others copies of the document on disk. They load it into their computers, and they see...


Or maybe you see a bunch series of little empty boxes…

Or maybe the file doesn’t load at all!

Why does this happen? It’s nearly always do to lack of standardization for doing Cyrillic.

What does lack of standardization mean? Well, take the Roman alphabet. There is a commonly accepted way to represent non- accented Roman letters (as well as numbers and punctuation on a computer. Each character is assigned a numerical code. As of today all computer designers agree that the capital letters A-Z occupy codes 65-90. The small letters a-z take up codes 97-122. Numbers and punctuation also have agreed upon codes. As a matter of fact, all the codes from 1 through 127 are commonly agreed upon. It doesn’t matter what computer your using: a capital N is always 78.

What about accented Roman characters? Until recently all computer systems used “extended” codes for European charcaters. These upper codes range from 128 through 255 But there is no universal coding. For example, the letter e with an acute accent is coded as 233 in the standard Windows code page, 160 in the Macintosh code page, and 130 in DOS. Fortunately, programmers worked out routines that usually automatically translate the codes when documents are moved from one platform to another.

Cyrillic, on the other hand, presents a much greater challenge. Cyrillic letters are also usually coded in the extended range from 128-255. There was a commonly accepted system for DOS and another system for MS Windows. There is yet another system for use on the Internet. And only in the 1990s did a Macintosh standard begin to emerge.

UNICODE. Now, at the turn of the millennium, Microsoft is pushing hard to make another “universal” coding the standard: Unicode. Unicode’s advantage is that is handles nearly every letter of every alphabet of the world, including lots of Chinese characters. The disadvantage is that it is incompatible with nearly all foreign fonts produced previously. When Unicode truly becomes universal, doing foreign languages across platforms will be a lot easier. The trouble is that the transition to Unicode is not painless. If you’ve amassed a ton of great looking fonts for some other system, you’ll have to start all over again in Unicode. Office97 forces users to do precisely that! For details on the coding scheme, see the Unicode chart site. Windows 95/98 users do not have to do much to use fonts that are compatible with both Unicode and (for many applications) Windows Cyrillic 1251. See the instructions for use immediately below under WINDOWS CYRILLIC (MS CODE PAGE 1251)

Right now, many (but not all) Microsoft products for Windows support Unicode. Unicode support for Macintosh is making inroads, but at a slightly slower pace. If you are using the latest operating system on either a Windows or a Macintosh computer, and the latest version of a browser such as Netscape, chances are you are Unicode-enabled, although Unicode may not be the default way your computer does Cyrillic. Compatibility issues are sure to plague Cyrillic computer users for the first few years of the 21st century.

The older competing systems are:

WINDOWS CYRILLIC (MS CODE PAGE 1251). Until recently, this has been the coding used in most Microsoft Windows applications. It is still the most widespread coding system on the World Wide Web. There are dozens of fonts, both commercial and non-commercial available.
Note: In most cases, Windows95/98 users do not need to download special files for CP 1251. Instead, do these steps:

  1. Insert your Windows95 CD-ROM.
  2. Go to Control Panel, Add Software, Windows setup, and check Multilanguage support. Click OK, and Windows will install a set of Russian fonts.
  3. If you do not have your original Windows95/98 CD-ROM, you can get the the Multilanguage support support package, lang.exe, free from Microsoft’s site. The benefit of Microsoft’s fonts is that the are compatible with both WinCyrillic and Unicode.
Download WinCyrillic 1251 fonts for Windows.
WinCyrillic 1251 is well supported by commercial spellcheckers, grammar checkers, etc. WinCyrillic 1251 places Russian characters in alphabetical order from A-JA and then a-ja starting at 192 and ending at 255. JO is encoded at 168 and jo at 184. While most Windows-based computers use Russian fonts based on WinCyrillic 1251, there are two places you can’t use it:
KOI8 is an outgrowth of an old coding system that used to be used on Soviet mainframe computers. Many documents on the Web, most e-mail used within Russia, and nearly all Russian-language newsgroups are coded in KOI8.
KOI8 runs in an attempt at English(!) alphabetical order with the lower case alphabet first. Lower case a is 193. Upper-case tverdiy znak is 255.
ALTERNATIVA coding (MS Code Page 866 and/or 899) is used mostly in non- Windows MS DOS based applications and was quite common in Russia. It codes capital A through small p in codes 128-175 and then picks up again from r to ja at 224-239. JO and jo have no official codes in this system, although some people make up their own fonts and assign them to 240 and 241.

APPLE MACINTOSH CYRILLIC II uses ASCII 128-159 for upper case Russian and 223 through 255 for lower case letters. Everything is in alphabetical order except for JO, jo and ja. The most recent Mac OS can be Cyrillicized so that the Mac reads not only its own Mac Cyrillic II, but also other coding systems. Try the following sources for Cyrillicizing the Macintosh:

Keyboard Drivers. Of course, once you have the font for a given coding, you can read any document written in that font with that coding. But to type, you have to be able to access the letters on the keyboard. For that you need a keyboard driver. That lets you switch effortlessly (usually with one keystroke) between Roman and Cyrillic. If you already have your font installed, and you can go to the driver menu and select the appropriate keyboard remapper.

Keyboard Drivers for Windows95. Windows95 includes a keyboard driver as part of multilanguage support. However, it supports only the “real” Russian keyboard, not the American student phonetic keyboard (Russian H is on the N key; Russian C is on the S key, etc., etc.). If you want to adjust your keyboard you have two choices:

  1. Get a commercial package such as the Parawin Russification kit, available from Smartlink Corporation. It comes in various flavors and costs between $100 - 200.
  2. Download a shareware keyboard editor, such as the Janko editor.
You can find other discussions about foreign-language coding on the Web:


Word for Windows (all versions since Word 6)

How do I do accent marks?

The easiest solution is to acquire a font with accented characters. Smartlink Corporation has a number of Russian fonts with accents as well as instructions as to how to type the accents. The xalyava solution is to create an accented character through Word’s { EQ } field. An accented a looks like this: { eq \o(´,a) }. To type the accent, make sure you are typing English, not Russian. Make sure the NumLock light is on. Then hold down the Alt key and on the number pad, punch in 0180. Obviously, if you plan to use this method a lot, you should make it into a macro. Keep in mind that a Russian spellchecker will not recognize this kind of accented character as legit.

Office97, Word97 (Windows)

I had Cyrillic in Word 6 and in Word for Windows95. Now when I type Cyrillic, I get little empty boxes.

You are probably using a font that is not Unicode compliant. Word97 (indeed all of Office97) uses Unicode compliant fonts only. The people at Microsoft have a way to map old non-Unicode fonts onto Unicode fonts, like the kind that come with Microsoft’s multilanguage support. But if your favorite typeface was Literaturnaya and it is not a Unicode font, you’ll have to settle for the more pedestrian TimesNewRomanCyrillic. Sorry! See Mapping old WinCyrillic fonts to Microsoft Unicode fonts.

E-mail and newsgroups
While WinCyrillic (or lately Unicode) reigns supreme in most places, KOI8 seems to have a lock on e-mail and usenet groups. Keep that in mind as you read through the next items.

How do I get Cyrillic in Eudora?

Some versions of Eudora is not particularly Cyrillic friendly. But here’s what you can do. Download a set of  WinCyrillic 1251 fonts and a set of KOI8 fonts. Microsoft’s Unicode compliant fonts such as TimesNewRomanCyr will not show Cyrillic in the current version of Eudora! When you get a message in Russian, try switching the display font under Options to the WinCyrillic font you downloaded (i.e. ERBukinist). If the message still looks like junk, try the KOI8 font. Americans sending you e-mail in Russian are likely to be using WinCyrillic. E-mail from Russia is likely to be in KOI8.

How do I Cyrillicize Netscape?

If you have Netscape 3, upgrade to Netscape Communicator (4.0 or higher), which is much more Cyrillic-friendly. In Netscape Communicator you don't need a special set of KOI8 fonts, even though most e-mail is sent in KOI8. Netscape makes Windows multilanguage Cyrillic fonts “do” KOI8. Therefore you should make sure that Windows95/98 is Cyrillicized. Then in Netscape, Edit Preferences and set Cyrillic (1251) to TimesNewRomanCyr and CourierNewCyr. When reading e-mail from Russia, make sure that View Encoding is set to Cyrillic 1251 (even if your friends send you e-mail in KOI8).

On rare occasions, Netscape mail users will come across messages in Russian that still appear to be unreadable, even when all the preparatory steps have been taken. If you see lots of Cyrillic junk in capital letters, the e-mail that you are trying to read has been sent in WinCyrillic 1251. But Netscape assumes that all Russian e-mail is in KOI8 and tries to make the adjustment for you. It’s too stupid to know when not to do this. But you can trick Netscape into not working so hard. To do this, you need a set of non-Microsoft non-Unicode compliant WinCyrillic 1251 fonts, such as Bukinist1251. Under Edit preferences, install these fonts under the User-defined encoding. Then read any Russian mail that you cannot  normally read by changing the View, Encoding menu item to “User defined.”

How do I Cyrillicize Outlook Express?

When properly configured, Outlook Express is the most Cyrillic-friendly e-mail program commonly available. It’s also free, since it’s bundled with Internet Explorer. Make sure that Windows95/98 is Cyrillicized. Then when composing or reading a message, go to Format, Language, and pick either WinCyrillic or KOI8. If you get nonsense in one, try the other.

When I send Russian e-mail to my friends in Russia, they can’t read it. And it’s not because of my grammar!

Your incomprehensibility is probably because you are sending WinCyrillic 1251 (the standard in most systems these days). But e-mail going to Russia is expected to be in KOI8. Russian Netscape users have difficulty reading anything but KOI8 (in e-mail). The easiest solution is to switch to an e-mail program that is KOI8-friendly: either Netscape Communicator (which automatically translates all the Russian e-mail you write into KOI8, whether you like it or not) or Outlook Express, which gives you a choice of how to send Cyrillic.

If for some reason you can’t switch, you can get a code-page converter to help you translate from one system to another before you send. There are a number of code-page convertes available on the web. Or you can order a full-service model (CP Tuner) from Smartlink Corporation. But no matter what you get, converters are a bother.

I can’t read the e-mail I get from my friends in Russia, even though my computer is completely Cyrillicized.

This is just the opposite of the problem discussed above. Your friends are sending you stuff that is automatically converted in KOI8 (used almost exclusively in e-mail). You’re probably not using Netscape Communicator or Outlook Express. My advice: switch to one of them. See the answer to the previous question for why.