ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 2/WG 2 N 2017

Date: 1999-03-12


Universal Multiple-Octet Coded Character Set (UCS) - ISO/IEC 10646

Secretariat: ANSI


WG2 Comments on ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 2 N 3243, the Japanese National Body Recommendation to ISO/IEC JTC1 Concerning the Activities of JTC1/SC2




For review and adoption by SC2 as the response to JTC1 N 5698


SC2 & SC2/WG2 members

SC2/WG2 agrees with Japan on the importance of the standardization work of JTC 1/SC 2. SC2/WG2, however, cannot agree with all of the conclusions drawn by Japan.

ISO/IEC 10646 is called the "Universal Character Set" for a reason: it is intended to cover all the scripts of the world. This view is widely shared by the industry and the user communities, both of which participate, both directly and indirectly, in the work of WG 2.

Admittedly, as the result of the above, it is not uncommon that any given National Body may find itself in a situation, where it has no expertise on a particular script in the process of being encoded. The value of the participation of such a National Body then lies in their expertise in the standardization process and in the general aspects of encoding characters for use in IT applications.

The process in SC 2/WG 2 is a transparent one and extensive efforts continue to be made to implement advanced planning for it. This process is being continuously improved with extensive participation and continued cooperation of many national bodies, liaison organizations, and experts. It is unavoidable that many issues will be discussed and prepared outside the formal WG operation. In particular, WG2 has made successful use of ad-hoc meetings to resolve complex technical issues requiring specialized expertise.

Japanís concern seems predicated primarily on the concern for market relevance of the ongoing work in SC2 for 10646. The first point implies that working on dead or almost dead ancient character sets has no market relevance. However, the very fact that the Unicode Consortium has seen fit to pursue some of these as of interest is a prima facie case for market relevance, since the Consortium is a group of market-driven entities. There is a market relevance to having complete solutions for customers, so that specialists in academia, libraries or government, and enthusiasts of various sorts with online presence can make use of off-the-shelf software, rather than having to depend on customized solutions that have interoperability problems.

There are a number of living scripts in use in Southeast Asia that are not yet included in 10646. However, it is incorrect to infer from that due attention and proper priority by SC2/WG2 is lacking. It is misleading to characterize the supply of ancient scripts as "virtually inexhaustible". SC2/WG2 has a plan, in the form of a roadmap, which provides a guideline for the prioritization of the program of work of WG2 in the future development of 10646.

As regards the issue of market relevance of historic scripts, or living minority scripts, for that matter, 10646, as the Universal Character Set, is in a unique position as a standard. Since 10646 is intended as the one, universal international standard for characters, 10646 must contain all scripts. It is then up to market forces to drive the scope of implementations of the standard. Implementers can choose to implement only the parts of the standard those are relevant to their applications and markets.

Japan's suggestion to use distributed maintenance and ownership for registration processes is at best impractical for lack of mechanism and control. At worst, it would result in a fractured standard; something that very much goes against the idea of a unified, universal character set that is the primary market requirement. The relevant working group, SC2/WG2, has demonstrated time and again that it can rise to the task of dealing with complex script encoding. This has been accomplished by inviting the participation of experts and affected nationally based organizations, as well as by its long-standing cooperation with the Unicode Technical Committee, which has gathered much additional information and expertise about the unencoded scripts of the world. Thus the suggestion to distribute the development and maintenance of 10646 outside of SC2/WG2 is more likely to cause interoperability problems rather than avoiding them.

Japanís last point claims that the "basic concept of IS 10646 seems to be changing and ambiguous." This is not correct. What has been changing is the nature of the new proposals for scripts and other characters to be added to the Universal Character Set. A Universal Character Set should include ALL characters needed in information technology. Now that the major world scripts have been completed, WG2 is dealing with minority and historic scripts. And now that more and more implementations of 10646 are appearing, implementers have brought forward new requirements for new formatting or other special characters that were not part of the original set of such characters included in the first edition. WG2 works hard to ensure those new additions to the standard maintain technical consistency with the published standard, so that existing data and implementations are not destabilized by additions. Within those constraints, WG2 must be open to new ideas and concepts that must be expressed as character codes for best implementation.

Japan claims that "the plane assignment is given for limited number of planes in rather ad hoc manner". The development plan for 10646 consists of three phases. Phase 1 focused on the development of the Basic Multilingual plane and a base architecture. Phase 1 was completed with the publication of part 1 of 10646 in May 1993. Phase 2 concentrated on the development of additional scripts for inclusion in part 1. This phase, which included 31 amendments and 2 technical corrigenda, is nearing completion with the expected publication of the next edition of part 1 of 10646 in March 2000. Phase 3 is under development and is focusing on the development of additional scripts that will be limited to 16 additional planes. Phase 3 will result in the publication of part 2 of 10646, which is expected to be published in December 2001. No plans exist beyond phase 3 as of now.

In conclusion, and in response to these concerns, SC2/WG2, at its meeting 36 in Fukuoka, Japan, agreed on additional guidelines for the future development of 10646 that are included in document SC2/WG2 N2009.