Re: Unicode end-users

From: Edward Cherlin (
Date: Sat Aug 02 1997 - 01:45:59 EDT

At 12:39 AM -0700 8/1/97, Graham Rhind wrote:
>Thanks for the replies to my questions about how Unicode can be used by
>I would sum up as follows (please try to make a switch and look at least
>questions from the point of view of a non-developer - this may all seem
>obvious, but not to me, and after months of research, not to anybody else I
>have spoken to either ...):

It isn't obvious to me, even knowing the facts. The key fact is that
internal data and files are treated one way, while input, screen display,
and printing are handled in another way.

It is almost trivial to implement Unicode text strings and files. It is
considerably more difficult to create a useful library of text handling
functions for Unicode text, but it can be and has been done. It is
extremely difficult to implement keyboard input, printing, and display for
full Unicode. So most recent operating systems have implemented Unicode
data and files fully, but input, display, and printing only for the easy
scripts, where ease of implementation is presently in the order

[been there, done that] ASCII,

[fairly easy--accented letters] extended ASCII (Western European), Eastern
European, other extended ASCII, Cyrillic, Greek,

[moderately hard--right-to-left] Hebrew,

[hard--composite characters] Arabic, Thai, Indic scripts, Tibetan,

[very hard--large character sets] Chinese, Japanese, Korean

[Say what?] Georgian, Ethiopian, Armenian, Cherokee, Cree, Sinhala,
Burmese, Mongolian, Futhark Runes, Ogham, Vietnamuse Chu Nomh, Egyptian,
Mayan, Hittite, cuneiform (Assyrian and Babylonian), Linear A, Linear B,
Glagolitic, Vai, Bamun, Tifinagh, Klingon, Cirth, Tengwar, Shavian,... (See
<> for a
detailed listing.

Most operating systems are at the first level, with options for adding
other scripts one at a time. There are a few systems as far advanced as the
CJK level, but none in general use.

>"Software is still limited by underlying ASCII code pages. Unicode can be
>used internally by any software which supports it, but there is no way for
>a user to type in a "code" standard for any program to specify a Unicode
>which can then be recognized by other programs across hardware and software

Some platforms allow the use of Unicode for all internal text data *and for
writing Unicode data files* but cannot display directly on screen without
translating to code pages. UniType from Gamma Productions allows Unicode
input in many scripts into most Windows programs, and manages the display
of Unicode. Apple offers language kits for the Macintosh including fonts,
input methods, and rendering software for particular scripts, usable for
multilingual applications in existing software. There are applications,
including word processing, Web browsing, e-mail, and database, which
support fairly expansive subsets of Unicode (8 or more scripts, 90+
languages) on such systems.

>Is this really the case? Are there plans to enable Unicode to function as
>ASCII does, for example, so that it is application independent and is of
>direct use to the user rather than just to software developers?

Certainly. Java, Win98, Apple Rhapsody, and some others promise strong
Unicode input and rendering support in 1998 or 1999, except perhaps for
some of the scripts of India, or Tibetan, or Korean, and usually without
any of the scripts that are not part of the Unicode standard yet, or have
only recently been added.

>It is very
>depressing for users such as myself in Europe that even after all these
>years it is still impossible for us to take a database of names from two
>neighbouring countries and merge them because database software assigns a
>single code page to the tables and this cannot represent all the characters

Some of the industrial-strength databases such as Oracle can do this,
translating both code pages into Unicode, but not ordinary office
applications, for example Microsoft Access.

>Please tell me I'm wrong ......

Well, you aren't as wrong as we wish you were. :-) But wait a little while.

>Graham Rhind
>Author, "Building and Maintaining a European Direct Marketing Database"

"Is it true," a Polish peasant asked God, "that a thousand years are as but
a day in thy sight?"
"It is true."
"And is it true also," the peasant continued, "that all the riches of the
world are yours?"
"It is true."
"So tell me, would you loan me 1,000 zlotys?"
"Wait only one day."

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