THE Islamic Republic of Iran is an unexpected place to find cutting-edge computer software development.
But since Persian is rarely spoken beyond Iran's borders, and the United States has refused to trade openly with Tehran for 13 years, Iran has had little choice but to do the work itself.
Despite a US Commerce Department ban on high-technology exports to Iran, software manufacturer Pajoohesh has developed an impressive range of English-Persian software for the bilingual office.
The top of the range is Filer, a document image processor that brings the paperless office one step closer. Filer replaces conventional office files.
By packing up to 1,000 images into each computer file, Filer dispenses with the ``one image, one file'' process of previous image filing systems. Pajoohesh designed its data compression software to minimize required disk space, says Hamid Sarshad, Pajoohesh's managing director.
Pajoohesh already has a range of products for Persian-language software environments, from an English-Persian dictionary, with a choice of 20 different technical vocabularies, to accounting and graphics programs.
But the company's most colorful achievement is a CD-ROM containing the entire Koran in sight and sound. Using a scanner and voice card, Pajoohesh has linked a taped rendition of the Koran sung in Arabic with a full-color graphic of the decorated text. By adding a Persian translation with an authentic mullah's lilt, the users can pick their favorite chapter and verse from any part of the full 48 hours.
Although the Iranian computer industry - estimated at 10 billion rials (Iranian; US$6.25 million) - is embryonic, its prospects for expansion look good. ``It's a very young market, but it has been growing steadily,'' says Kaveh Salehi, technical manager at Tehran's Debugger Computer Center.
Iran's fledgling software industry, however, has been weighed down by pirates. Iran has no copyright law and many packages are copied and distributed without license within a purchasing company. This undercuts the developer.
Despite the turbulent climate, Pajoohesh has already found a market for Filer with Tehran's Foreign Ministry. The police and immigration services have signed contracts as well. Pajoohesh is also preparing to produce export versions of Filer in English and Arabic.