Re: UTF-8, ISO C Am.1, and POSIX

From: Martin J. Dürst (
Date: Mon Aug 18 1997 - 06:34:38 EDT

On Thu, 14 Aug 1997 wrote:

> Glenn Adams writes:
> A good case can be made that the only reason they needed a code set
> independent design was because Unicode did not exist at that time. It's
> existence now obviates the POSIX design philosophy. Eventually, all
> systems will migrate to Unicode/10646 as their default character set.
> . . .
> Of course the pace of this transition is certainly an arguable (and unknown)
> datum at this time.
> The scene in my crystal ball is considerably different than
> yours. Having been in computers for almost 15 years and i18n
> for 10, I've seen countless examples of companies and
> countries choosing different solutions for a problem, and
> only one where they all chose the SAME solution. This single
> example is traffic lights -- in all places I've ever visited,
> red means stop and green means go.

Yes. But what can also be seen is that in almost every country/
region/whatever, or for the world as a whole, the maturity of
that place's information industry can be mesured in terms of
the number of different character encodings used. For the plain
ASCII repertoire, there were quite a few encodings before ASCII
came. A single one is remaining in some niches, namely EBCDIC,
but EBCDIC systems are carefully organized so that EBCDIC
doesn't leach to the outside word. A similar thing applies
to Western Europe, there was chaos not too many years ago,
and now Latin-1 is clearly the converging point.

When computerization is started, people think it is an intellectual
achievement to invent a new character encoding. And maybe they
hope to remain for eternity if their's wins. It takes time for
people to realize that in most cases, they would be better
off with a single encoding. It takes even more time for people
to admit that they would be better off with a single encoding,
even if it's not their encoding that makes it.
Interestingly enough, these things happen anew in every new place.
And the bigger the place, the longer it takes. In contrast to
"which side of the road do you drive by", the benefits of
convergence in the long run greatly outwight the costs of
it, and the more communication gets internationalized, the
more this becomes true. If we had cars running from one
country to another at the same speed as data packets get
from one computer to another, the side of the road they
drive on would have been unified long ago.

Regards, Martin.

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