Re: Unicode end-users

From: Edward Cherlin (
Date: Sun Aug 10 1997 - 14:46:31 EDT

At 2:35 AM -0700 8/9/97, Graham Rhind wrote:
>My original requests for information have been answered in many ways. In
>some respects I'm a lot wiser. In others I'm not at all.
>There was some discussion about whether end-users need to be aware of
>Unicode and how to use it. I'm afraid this is a regular refrain especially
>amongst those based in the US where the problematics of different
>code-pages may seem remote. If one is using a word-processing package, for
>example, then I would agree that the issues are less pressing. Since using
>Windows, I have been able to create documents in any package using any set
>of latin characters simply by buying the appropriate font, installing it,
>changing to it within the package and using it where appropriate. The
>designers of these word-processing packages seem to have got their acts
>together so that generally a document produced in one package can be read
>by another without losing quality in terms of diacritics.
>With database systems this is not the case (at least not under Windows. I
>am ignorant about Unix I'm afraid ...). I would argue that in these cases,
>users need to be as aware of Unicode as they now need to be of ASCII codes
>to allow the entry of diacritics.
>Let me give a realistic example. I am building a database for central
>Europe, including the neighbouring countries of Austria, Hungary and
>Slovenia. I am told that Oracle, for example, has multi-lingual unicode
>support. But for every large database built in an expensive, high-end and
>skill intensive product like Oracle, there are thousands built in lower-end
>products such as MS-Access, MS-Foxpro and Lotus Approach. Because each of
>the languages involved in this example (German and Italian, Slovenian,
>Slovakian and Hungarian) require a different code page to reproduce
>diacritics, this data cannot be stored in a single database, or a set of
>alternative characters needs to be used to "code" the diacritics in each
>language, or the diacritics need to be ignored (highly undesirable). I am
>building this database in the most advanced (to my knowledge) Microsoft
>PC-based database system - Visual Foxpro 5.0. This package claims to
>support Unicode. I can translate existing data to Unicode and read Unicode
>data, but this does not help me to enter data in Unicode in the first
>place. I am using Windows NT 4.0, which I am told allows the entry of
>Unicode (though I still haven't been able to find out HOW this is done) -
>the NT help file is very coy about Unicode, as are the VFP help files.
>Even assuming I was able to add diacritics for each country, then I would
>remain unable to move this data out of the files. To be read by other
>packages, this data often needs to move via a third form - for example
>ASCII delimited or dBase III+. This being the case, by definition, the
>Unicode support is lost on translation.
>It seems to me that Unicode implementation is being regarded as something
>very academic and really not of practical interest to the users. I would
>dispute this. The users have the practical need to overcome the problems
>with which our multi-lingual world presents us. From everything that I have
>read, I have the impression that I would have to wait ten more years before
>a simple task like building a low-cost address database for multiple
>language areas can be achieved cheaply and easily by an end-user without
>losing or damaging data.
>Again, I'd love to be corrected about this ...
>Graham Rhind
>Author "Building and Maintaining a European Direct Marketing Database"

As I told someone else recently, you're not as wrong as we would wish. You
won't have to wait ten years for a full Unicode-capable Access and NT, but
you will have to wait until NT5.

It is not that the software houses regard this as academic, but Unicode
implementation is difficult and competes with other features for
development resources. Oracle and other high-end database suppliers put a
higher priority on Unicode support than Microsoft does for clear business
reasons. The high-end products go to big companies who are more likely to
use them for international projects. Access goes mainly to monolingual
users of Win3x and Win95.

Ed Cherlin <> <>
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