Unstable foundations and wavering faith

From: Kenneth Whistler (kenw@sybase.com)
Date: Tue May 27 1997 - 19:51:02 EDT

> With waivering faith I wrote:
> :-)
> > HTML certainly is an interesting alternative to plain text because it
> > is so universal (and, hopefully, with a stable foundation).

> Es lebe plain text! (long live ~)

It is no accident that Silicon Valley thrives in Earthquake country.

But while everything seems to be in constant turmoil, and yesterday's
hot new item is today's trash -- try to take the long view.

1. The Information Technology industry is still in its adolescent
phase (no longer its infancy, certainly), but maturing rapidly. As
industrial technology matures, it tends to stabilize into well-
understood, efficient patterns, with competition for innovations just
fizzing around the edges. Handling of multilingual text as part of
the general problem of automated information technology is still
in ferment, but we can see the beginnings of the crystallizations
of well-understood, accepted ways of dealing with the issues on

2. Unicode is laying the (firm, we hope) foundation for plain text
representation through the next century--perhaps longer. In any
case, like ASCII, it should last long enough to gain the lustrous,
comfortable patina of trusted age. Just as my nieces now find it hard
to conceive of a political age before Ronald Reagan, people just
being introduced to computer science and programming in Java will
find it hard to conceive of character sets before Unicode.

--Ken (Color me rosy) Whistler

P.S. For those who, like me, worry that all electronic data
not in plain text (and ASCII plain text at that) is in constant
danger of disappearing into the enormous historical bit bucket
of undecipherable formats using undecipherable encodings on
obsolete media, consider the following: Perhaps the greatest source
of information loss in the longrun was the shift by the publishing
industry to use of cheap high-acid papers early in this century.
Ask librarians about the conditions of their pre-War collections
(my nieces just asked, "The Gulf war?") of books. Or how about
all the nitrate movie film stock collapsing into dust?

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