RE: DEC multilingual code page, ISO 8859-1, etc.

From: Frank da Cruz (
Date: Wed Mar 22 2000 - 21:09:00 EST

> What a horrible summary of the history of IBM PC!
I told you it was unsubstantiated! :-)

> Then after the IBM AT (a stunning machine for its time)...
It was! Especially considering the legacy it had to carry forward: the
bizarre memory layout, the toy interrupt controller, ... We still live with
these limitations today, and countless billions of person-hours have been
wasted fighting interrupt conflicts and (in the earlier days) the intracacies
of memory managers, EMS, XMS, etc etc. But that's not a Unicode topic :-)

It's CP437 that's relevant here -- not that it matters, since it's a well
established fact, as are the CP12xx's. But at some point in those early
days, somebody in Boca Raton had the idea to stuff the C1 area with graphic
characters (and for that matter C0 too, but mercifully not to use them),
despite well-established standards, for the sake of being able to put ABC's,
some Greek, some accented Roman letters, and lots of line- and box-drawing
characters on the screen at the same time without having to do any of that
annoying character-set designation and invocation called for by the
standards, perhaps not foreseeing the trouble this would cause when
unsuspecting users, and even programmers, would start using CP437 on the

This, by the way, is in contrast to the approach taken by some other
vendors and (at the time) competitors like (ex-)DEC, which, in its Rainbow
PC, had a console that followed ISO 2022 rules.

> On a different topic, the 125x's will or shortly will be standardized (as
> well as de facto) code pages for info interchange on the Internet.
By "standardized" you probably mean registered as MIME charsets. That's not
quite the same as being standardized in the ISO or ANSI sense, back in the
days when care was taken to make sure that "information interchange" was not
compromised. The world of computing is not just the Web. We still do have
terminals and emulators that follow -- and must follow -- the rules of ANSI
X3.64 and ISO 6429, 4873, and 2022. Putting graphics in C1 does terrible
things to (e.g.) people who read their email with a VT320 (or emulator).
Those CP 12xx apostrophes can be killers :-)

> One can
> gripe about the situation, but it evolved along with the web and there's
> nothing one can do to perfect things at this point.
One can resist further ruination.

> Life is a series of
> compromises. As is Unicode. If Unicode had been perfect, it never would
> have succeeded, since backwards compatibility is so important.
Backwards compatibility to the aforementioned standards is important too :-)

- Frank

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