re:Multi-Lingual Project Gutenberg (was: Unicode plain text)

From: Frank da Cruz (
Date: Tue May 27 1997 - 14:40:38 EDT

> > Es lebe plain text! (long live ~)
> I find this a tragic position. Before unicode, the common
> denominator for cross-platform data transfer was 7 bit ASCII.
> Unicode charged ahead to raise the common denominator but
> statements like this essentially say that the common denominator
> should go no further. This is counter to the spirit that
> inspired Unicode and counter to the standard itself which
> explicitly defers a number of important dimensions of text
> processing to higher level protocols.
But that is to say that Unicode is useless except in combination
with a higher level protocol over which it has no control. I
have absolutely no faith in any higher level protocol. They come
into fashion and then exit ignominiously with astounding speed.

So perhaps the need for plain text is "tragic" (so too would be the
fact that many citizens of earth do not possess high-end bit-mapped
rendering engines, let alone sufficient food to eat), but it is
nonetheless real.

I think a lot of Unicoders have little idea what the real world is
like. They know it is populated by people who speak many languages
written in diverse writing systems, which is a step forward. But
they don't pay much attention to the "low tech" computer-related
components of everyday life -- not only in the less "developed"
countries, but even in the rich ones. They seem to believe that the
only use for computers any more is Web browsing and composition of
glossy (multilingual) sales brochures.

Try to remember all the real work that computers are doing every
day in hidden places: medical and laboratory equipment, manufacturing
equipment, telecommunications equipment, traffic control, POS, EDI, etc.

Case in point: the imbedded microprocessors and microcontrollers
whose interface to the outside world is a lowly serial port, and
which have only a few K available for their control program.
Countless millions of them, chosen precisely for their low cost.

Now, isn't it our goal for Unicode to become, eventually, the world's
one-and-only character set? Good! Then let's not lock out the low
end. Let's see if we can't separate the concept of character set
from the *necessity* for higher (and lower) level protocols and the
need for a high-end rendering engine. (Sure, use them if you want,
but that's a totally separate issue.)

- Frank

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