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Summary Narrative

The Unicode character encoding derives its name from three main goals:

  • universal (addressing the needs of world languages)

  • uniform (fixed-width codes for efficient access), and

  • unique (bit sequence has only one interpretation into character codes)

The concept of a 16-bit universal code is not new; even the original principles of the ISO multi-byte character encoding are directed to that end:

"...Develop the ISO standard for graphic character repertoire and coding for an international two byte graphic character set... Consider the needs of programming languages to have the same amount of storage for each character..."

[ISO/TC97/SC2 N1436, 1984]

Other antecedents to Unicode are found in the Star workstation introduced by Xerox in 1980 and in aspects of the two-byte standards found in the Far East.

Unicode began as a project in late 1987 after discussions between engineers from Apple and Xerox: Joe  Becker, Lee Collins and Mark Davis. By early 1988, three main investigations had been completed:

  1. comparisons of fixed-width and mixed-width text access

  2. investigations of the total system storage requirements with two-byte text; and

  3. preliminary character counts for all world alphabets.

Based on these investigations, and their experience with different character encodings, Becker, Collins and Davis derived the basic architecture for Unicode.

In the fall of 1988, Collins began building a database of Unicode characters.

The original design ordered characters alphabetically within scripts, and excluded all composite characters. Xerox had already built up a database of Unified Han for font construction. Collins used a database of EACC characters from RLG (The Research Libraries Group) to start a Han Unification database at Apple. Becker and Collins later correlated the two databases, and Collins continued to extend the database with further character correspondences added for other national standards.

In early 1989, the scope of the Unicode working group was extended to gain the participation of other companies. At this time, Ken Whistler and Mike Kernaghan of Metaphor, Karen Smith-Yoshimura and Joan Aliprand of RLG, and Glenn Wright of Sun joined the working group, and began making significant contributions to the design.

In mid 1989, a number of changes were made to bring Unicode closer to existing standards. All existing ISO composite characters were added to Unicode, and "round trips" were added (any entries distinguished as two characters in national standards would be distinguished in Unicode), and the ordering was changed to use ISO 8859 ordering where possible.

In early 1990, Michel Suignard and Asmus Freytag joined representing Microsoft. Together with Whistler, they were to begin an extensive effort to produce mapping tables to other character encoding standards. Unicode alphabetics and symbols were essentially complete by the spring of 1990, but the cross-mapping effort continued. This extensive mapping effort to 10646, IBM, Mac and national standards proved to be an invaluable aid to producing a complete, valid encoding.

Joan Winters started representing SHARE at Unicode meetings. Isai Scheinberg and J.G. Van Stee of IBM joined in mid 1990. An extensive IBM review and study was organized at Toronto University. The results of this review include the compatibility zone for half-width characters and Arabic glyphs. James Caldwell of Pacific Rim began working as the editor, pulling together the different documents into a coherent standard document. Most of the character descriptions were completed at this time.

By October 1990 the Han characters were also in final draft. The decision was made to have a broad distribution of a final review draft of Unicode, to allow the working group the opportunity to assess and incorporate feedback from a variety of sources. Microsoft and Aldus volunteered to bear the distribution cost. Rick McGowan of NeXT began a database of characters for addition to future versions of the standard.

Mike Kernaghan, Bill English, Mark Davis and Asmus Freytag organized most of the business aspects of Unicode, Inc. which was incorporated on Jan 3, 1991 in the state of California.

The original purpose of the Unicode Consortium was to 'standardize, extend and promote the Unicode character encoding, a fixed-width, 16-bit character encoding for over 60,000 graphic characters.' The statement of purpose has since been updated to reflect that the Unicode Standard has grown beyond 16 bits.

The original members of the Board of Directors of Unicode, Inc. were:

  • Larry Tesler, Vice President Advanced Products,   Apple Computer, Inc.

  • Robert Carr, Vice President Software Development, GO Corporation

  • Richard Holleman, Director of Telecommunications, IBM Corporation

  • Charles Irby, Vice President of Development,  Metaphor Computer Systems

  • Paul Maritz, Vice President Advanced Operating Systems,  Microsoft Corporation

  • Bud Tribble, Vice President Software Engineering, NeXT Computer Inc.

  • Jay Israel, Vice President Advanced Technology, Novell, Inc.

  • David Richards, Director of Development, The Research Libraries Group.

  • John Gage, Vice President Desktop Development, Sun Microsystems Inc.

The initial officers of Unicode, Inc. were:

  • Mark Davis, President

  • Mike Kernaghan, Vice-President

  • Joe Becker, Technical Vice-President

  • Ken Whistler, Secretary

  • Bill English, Treasurer