Re: MES instead of ISO 8859-nn

From: Markus Kuhn (
Date: Tue Jul 01 1997 - 16:02:12 EDT

J%org Knappen wrote:
[ISO 15xxx MES subset of ISO 10646]
> I must admit, that I like this suggestion, although it is not really
> forward-thinking. But it follows the KISS (Keep it simple and small)
> principle like many other good things. A problem might be, to keep
> ISO 15646¹ in synchronisation with ISO 10646---another
> registration authority might introduce divergencies.
> ¹Nota Bene: This is not an official standard number

Synchronization is only a problem if you expect the standard to
evolve. ISO 10646 as the all-in-one mother-of-all-character-sets
standard will certainly evolve and will be modified or extended
probably twice per year over the next decades to satisfy even
the most exotic academic needs. This alone will make the word
"ISO 10646 conforming" technically confusing and meaningless,
no matter what the marketroids think. But ISO 15646¹ should be
seen once it is finished as an untouchable standard, just
like ASCII is untouchable today. No modifications, no synchronization
problems. Just ~1000 stable characters as an attractive intermediate
step away from ASCII and Latin-1 into the 16-bit world.

I see already with horror today, that programming language standards
allow *all* ISO 10646 characters in identifier names. Imagine variable
names with bidi and combining character content: interoperability
will be doomed, I will not even be able to print some of the
procedures. Are linkers supposed to resolve precomposed and
combining characters in identifiers? Few people who just naively
reference ISO 10646 in their specification have a real clue of
what problems they might create. ISO 15646¹ would be a standard
that can be used the same way as ASCII without creating these
additional semantic interoperability hazards that ISO 10646
promises today.

I know, it is not very forward thinking and probably already behind
the state-of-the art of the next Web browser generation with very
sophisticated font technology. However there are a lot of very
useful other tools besides Netscape out there that I use daily
(Emacs, vi, xterm, kermit, gcc, etc.) that live in a monospaced
left-to-right environment and for these systems, upgrading to UTF-8
and around 1000 character fonts is a tiny exercise, but anything
beyond is out of the question. For THIS environment, and not for
flashy GUIs like Netscape I would like to see ISO 15646¹.
It is the environment of an academic Linux hacker and not the
environment of flashy-GUI companies like Microsoft and Netscape.
There are still some people out there like myself who feel that the
standard Internet email format should not become WinWord
and should stay editable with Emacs.


Markus Kuhn, Computer Science grad student, Purdue
University, Indiana, US, email:

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