Use of computer began in Bangladesh in the 1960s and assumed wider dimension in the nineties. Information Technology is today a well-known matter. IT began to assume greater acceptability in this country from the middle of the nineties. The first computer in Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) was installed at theatomic energy centre, Dhaka of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission in 1964. It was an IBM Mainframe Computer of 1620 series. The main use of the machine was resolving complicated mathematical calculations in different research works.
In the sixties rapid expansion of bank and insurance as well as trade and commerce including scientific research at both home and abroad increased manifold the volume of routine accounting works which necessitated rapidness in this job. In many of the big organisations, maintenance of accounts manually became almost impossible. During this period a number of big organisations of the country set up costly Mainframe Computer. The then Habib Bank installed IBM 1401 computer while the United Bank used IBM 1901 in the late sixties. These computers belonging to the 3rd generation Mainframe type were mainly used for entire accounting works of these banks. Before the independence, an IBM 360 computer was set up at the Bureau of Statistics in 1969. A Mainframe computer was also installed at Adamjee Jute Mills during the same period. Before independence, inclusion of computer hardware and software related courses in the curricula of Mathematics, Physics, Applied Physics and Electronics at university level education began, though in a limited way.
After independence computerisation process in this country got a new spurt. In this manner bangladesh bureau of statistics played an important role. Big computers like IBM 370, IBM 9100 and IBM 4341 etc were installed in this organisation in phases since 1972. The development of computerisation process in this organisation still continues and different powerful computers and other ultra modern IT equipment of subsequent generations have since been installed there. In September 1979 an IBM 370 and an IBM 4331 Mainframe Computer were introduced at thebangladesh university of engineering and technology (BUET) and BUET Computer Centre was also established. This Computer Centre has been playing a pioneering role in imparting computer education in Bangladesh and disseminating computer technology in the country. atomic energy research establishment(AERE) at Savar installed an IBM 4341 Mainframe Computer in 1981. The Dhaka University Computer Centre began its journey with an IBM 4331 Mainframe Computer in 1985.
The invention of microprocessor by the Intel Corporation of the United States in 1971 brought about a revolution in the shape and capability of computer. Microprocessor based computers started to appear in the markets. Personal Computer or PC innovated by the IBM (International Business Machines) company hit the market in 1981. Later on high-powered microprocessors began to evolve one after another alongside powerful PCs. The IBM did not keep any prohibitory regulation about manufacturing IBM compatible computers from the very beginning. This brought about revolutionary changes in their prices and their uses also multiplied. On the other hand Apple Computer Incorporate also released in the market Apple-Macintosh computer evolved by them. But the Apple did not adopt any liberal policy in making their compatible computer and hence the price of Macintosh computer remained very high that precluded it from achieving expected popularity. Nevertheless, due to some special practical privileges Apple-Macintosh were widely used particularly in printing industries.
PCs became easily available due to its easy use and cheapness in price. As a result, use of PCs started to increase in Bangladesh mainly since the last part of the eighties, especially in education and business concerns. However, wider use of computer in Bangladesh accelerated from the mid-nineties.
Innovation of Bangla software Bangla writing in computer was first materialised in 1987 and an engineer namely Mainul Islam deserved the claim of this success. He managed to write Bangla in Apple-Macintosh computer using his self-evolved font 'Mainulipi'. In this pursuit the conventional English keyboard was used without using any separate keyboard for Bangla. The difference in type and form of Bangla and English alphabets and the problems relating to Bangla conjunct letters were solved using the advantage of four layer keyboard of Macintosh. Two more Bangla font, namely 'Shahidlipi' and 'Jabbarlipi' were evolved immediately after Mainulipi.
Next year, ie in 1988 the first Interface 'Bijoy' useable in Apple-Macintosh computer was built under the auspices of a non-government organisation 'Anando Computers'. The layout of the first Bangla keyboard was also composed during this time. Among the initial keyboards, Bijoy and Munir are worth mentioning. In the Interface technique, the Bangla keyboard is attached with the Operating System (OS) of the computer and Bangla is inscribed in the computer by activating this keyboard and selecting a Bangla font. Bijoy, being a Macintosh based interface and the price of Apple-Macintosh computer being too high, number of its users was limited. Its use was practically confined to printing and publications.
The users of IBM computer were always more and keeping this in mind two higher secondary level students Reza-E Al Amin Abdullah (Aunko) and Md. Shahidul Islam (Sohel) evolved a self sufficient Bangla word processing software entitled 'Barna' in early 1992. Innovation of this independent word processor by these two meritorious programmers from their own firm 'Safeworks' was an epoch making event. This was DOS based (Disk Operating System), though the appearance of the programme was like the Windows. In the Barna, three types of keyboard could be used - Munir, Bijoy and Easy keyboard. The Barna also incorporated the advantage of keyboard restructuring (customise). That is, one could make out new keyboard layout according to one's liking or convenience.
Subsequently, with the introduction of better and better word processor versions in the market by Microsoft Corporation, an interface 'Bijoy' was evolved in 1993 with a view to using Bangla font and Bangla keyboard with Microsoft Windows in IBM computer. Later another interface namely 'Lekhani' was made available in 1994. Though 'Aabaha' (later part of 1992) was the first interface suitable for use in IBM computer, its use remained restricted due to some lapses. Quite a few Bangla interfaces are prevalent at present, viz Bijoy, Lekhani, Proshika-Shabdo, Anirban, Barnamala, Prabartana, etc. Like more than one interfaces, a number of Bangla keyboards are also operating, viz Munir, Bijoy, National, Lekhani, Prabartana, ShahidLipi, etc. Due to the absence of a universal keyboard layout in Bangla and the lack of harmony among different interfaces, a document composed by using a particular interface and keyboard layout can not be edited by using a different interface and keyboard layout. However converter programme is being attached in some interfaces recently or converter programmes are being compiled separately. A universal keyboard layout and proper coordination between different interfaces made by various companies are necessary to resolve this problem.
In keeping pace with interface and keyboard layouts Bangla font has also achieved sufficient development. Various fonts ranging from very common to artistic standard have been composed. Apart from word processor, Bangla keyboard and fonts can be used in various other application package programmes. For use with word processor different Bangla spell checking programmes have also been made, viz Pundit, Prashika Shabda-kosh, Lekhani, etc. But owing to the absence of any particular layout for Bangla font in the computer, no progress has been achieved so far in sorting Bangla alphabets in serial order. In 2001, the IT team of the National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh, Banglapedia, after much research, was able to attain success in sorting Bangla alphabets in computer.
Following the use of Bangla in computer, role of computer in offices and printing industries in Dhaka rapidly assumed a great dimension. Exportable software development in Bangladesh commenced in 1995 while exportable multimedia system development began in 1997.
Use of Internet and e-mail Though the use of Internet worldwide spread rapidly in 1990, Bangladesh joined the bandwagon much later. Use of Internet in the country started in 1995 for the first time in a limited way through offline e-mail. VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) was first set up in 1996 for Internet purpose. Online Internet connection started mushrooming through an Internet Service Provider (ISP) by the name ISN. At present there are more than 50 ISPs in the country; of these only BTTB (Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board) is government owned. Most of the ISPs are Dhaka based. However online Internet facilities are now also available outside Dhaka in cities like Chittagong, Sylhet, Khulna, Rajshahi, Bogra and Cox's Bazar. With the establishment of online Internet service a new horizon has been opened in the field of education, research, business and entertainment. With the expansion of online Internet facilities, various institutions and organisations have started to release their self-introductory WebPages. The official Web address of Bangladesh Government is www.banglagov.org where various information regarding the country have been furnished in brief.
E-mail is the cheapest, fastest and the most dependable media in the field of communications in the present day world. With the introduction of this system in Bangladesh, its use is increasing day by day right from individual level to all fields of education, office and commerce. With a view to introducing faster mail service Bangladesh Postal Department has arranged Electronic Post (e-post) at a number of post offices in the country. Under this postal system messages are sent and received through Internet. A good number of Cyber Cafes have been set up in Dhaka City where Internet facilities including web browsing are available.
Some educational institutions, training centres and business houses of the country started setting up Local Area Network (LAN) from the beginning of the 1990s. Among them Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Rajshahi University and Bangladesh Open University have set up high standard optical fibre LAN backbone for internal communication. In 1997 a plan was undertaken to connect all the universities of the country through a Wide Area Network (WAN) called BURNET. Subsequently Dhaka University and BUET were brought under this network through radio link in 1999. The other universities have not yet been brought under this network directly but they can be connected through dial-up. The government has another plan to connect the big libraries of the country through another Wide Area Network BANSLINK.
Another move is underway to set up a high bandwidth optical fibre cable through underneath the Bay of Bengal in a bid to connect Dhaka and Chittagong directly with Singapore. This will connect Bangladesh with the Global Information Super Highway which will revolutionise Bangladesh's communication facilities with other countries of the world. With the establishment of this optical fibre cable link speed of Internet browsing will increase manifold with decreasing cost and rates of international telephone calls are also expected to come down.
Computer assembling No computer components are yet produced in Bangladesh. In most cases these are imported from Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Korea. Besides, few computers and computer components are also imported from Japan, America and various European countries. Different local companies assemble most of the computers now in demand in the country. However, a few fully pre-assembled brand computers are also imported from abroad though their number is extremely limited. The government has made computer hardware, software and their accessories duty-free from 1998-99 fiscal year with a view to encourage the use and expansion of computer in the country. As a result, prices of computers in the country have decreased and their use multiplied many folds.
Use of computer In Bangladesh today computer is being used in research and educational institutions, government and private organisations, business concerns including bank and insurance, industries, mills and factories, military installations etc. Among the government offices, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics is the largest user of computers. The Statistical Bureau at present uses computer at every phase of preservation, processing and analysing of data collected from various surveys including formulation of database.
In financial institutions including banks, particularly in private banks, maintenance of database and extension of various services are increasingly getting computer based. Computerisation is also gradually under way in government banks. Foreign banks played a pioneering role in introducing computerised financial transactions in Bangladesh. By using computer technology, these banks are being able to give better services to their clients by establishing links with inter-branch, inter-bank as well as inter-continental banks. Most of the local private banks are following this today. Some local and foreign banks individually or collectively have been running Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) network by using computer technology. ATM card device is fast spreading in the country's main cities. Credit card has also become popular all over the country since inception in 1999.
At present, companies like VISA, Master Card and VANIK are dealing with this computer based Credit Card Service which is a safe and easy device of monetary transactions. Very recently a number of foreign banks have introduced Electronic Fund Transfer Service. Microchip installed Smart Cards are also becoming popular in the country gradually. This device has been proved to be very useful specially in repaying of bills of various services oriented organisations and companies.
Various technology based departments and agencies of the Bangladesh Government viz SPARRSO (Space Research and Remote Sensing Organisation), Bangladesh Meteorological Department, Survey of Bangladesh, Water Resources Planning Organisation (WARPO), Geological Survey of Bangladesh, etc are using computer in formulation of their database and mapping. In particular, by using GIS (Geographical Information Systems) software, drawing of various types of skilful maps at shorter time is being possible. Bangladesh Meteorological Department is now able to provide faster and more accurate weather forecast by analysing meteorological data collected from satellites and formulation of maps through computer. This is enabling people to take preparations during times of natural hazards and decreasing the volume of damages to much extent. Besides, analyses relating to weather and climatic changes are also being possible through computer modelling.
Bangladesh Election Commission has taken up a project to prepare a flawless voter list with the help of computer. Different government and non-government organisations are using Data Base Application Software to meet their respective requirements. Though these software were imported from abroad in the past, at present various local software companies are being engaged in most of the cases to make these customised software.
The management and running of large scale and important industrial concerns of the country are now to much extent dependent on computer technology - particularly those industries where it is essentially important to keep intact the qualitative standard of the goods produced. For example, pharmaceutical industries. In these factories, qualitative standard of drugs is being ensured with the help of computer.
Computer organisations In 1983 a national committee was formed aimed at purchasing computers to cater to the government requirements. In 1988 the committee was renamed as the National Computer Board. This Board was further reformed in 1989 and was made into an institution under the Ministry of Science and Technology in the name of Bangladesh Computer Council (BCC). BCC has now been working as a government advisory body on computer.
A number of professional bodies have been set up under non-government endeavours to steer ahead the computer-culture in the country. Of these, Bangladesh Computer Society is the pathfinder. The number of members of this Society, founded in 1979, is now well past four thousand. In 1992 computer businessmen set up Bangladesh Computer Samiti (BCS). Under the auspices of this association, an extensive computer market called BCS Computer City has been established at IDB building at Agargaon in Dhaka. BCS Computer Fair is organised every year in this Computer City. The Samiti also arranges regular computer fair in the country's main metropolis apart from Dhaka. There is a number of other computer professional bodies including Bangladesh Association of Software Industries and Services.
Computer education The institutional computer education began in Bangladesh in 1984 with the founding of the Computer Science and Engineering Department in BUET. The Computer Science Department at Dhaka University was established on 1st September 1992. At present departments for computer education have been opened in most government and non-government universities in the country as well as in four BITS (Bangladesh Institute of Technology). Computer Science courses has also been opened at Honours level in a number of colleges affiliated with the National University. Computer education has been included in the syllabus at higher secondary level since 1991 and that of secondary level since 1994. Various private computer training centres have been playing vital role in disseminating computer literacy in the country since the middle of the 1990s. Many local computer training institutes are conducting training programmes jointly with various foreign universities and institutes.
At present quite a few computer related magazines are being published regularly. Some of these magazines also release Multimedia or CD (Compact Disk) versions side by side paper printed editions.
Programmes for establishing 'Computer and IT Villages' at Kaliakair in Gazipur district off Dhaka and at Mohakhali in Dhaka City have been taken at government initiative. When implemented the use and culture of computer and information technology in Bangladesh will increase many times.
[Masud Hasan Chowdhury and Md Mahbub Murshed]