re: Linux & Unicode

From: Glen (
Date: Wed Dec 02 1998 - 21:45:13 EST

While I certainly don't claim to be aware of *all* i18n issues, I'm well
aware that the text encoding isn't the end of it. I do consider it the
*beginning* of it, though.

What's the point in even discussing issues like bidirectionality,
composition, line breaking algorithms fancier than break-on-white-space,
ruby, Unicode-savvy regular expressions, and so on with people who don't
even consider requests for Unicode itself worthy of a response?

As I said, I've had no luck eliciting any response at all from GNOME, KDE,
RedHat, GTK, and others regarding Unicode. No responses whatsoever from any
of them. Posting the question on a Linux newsgroup merely elicited a couple
of "Micro$oft sux, you luser"-type replies. Not very enlightening. On
Slashdot, I was informed by a European that Linux had the "concept of
locales, so Unicode doesn't matter", and by the Chinese "developer of the
Chinese version of KDE" that I didn't know what I was talking about because
Unicode was useless to Chinese developers. Hmm.

Now, people's willingness to respond to me isn't necessarily indicative of
the level of their interest in, or committment to, Unicode, of course. I'm
aware of that, which is why I have to assume that I may just be misinformed.
I haven't been able to find any real evidence of any other sort that Unicode
matters much to the Linux community, though, and lots of evidence that it

If you want to go beyond Unicode and ask them about support for Tibetan
decomposition or Thai line breaking, be my guest. Good luck.

With the notable exception of Arnt's wonderful response to my question
(thanks, Arnt!), I haven't had much luck and don't see much enthusiasm for
Unicode in the Linux community. It appears that Microsoft, Sun, IBM, Oracle,
Xerox, etc., as truly multinational organizations, have a much more global
mindset than the Linux community. They want a single, consistent, worldwide
text encoding for what they see as a unified, global IT infrastructure.

Linuxers, on the other hand, seem to see their machines as one-of-a-kind
works of art, as individual expressions, not as cogs in a global machine.
They seem quite content to have their own machines limited to supporting
their own language(s), and nothing more. I think that's short-sighted.

There's a lot to like about Linux. The price is right, especially for
developing countries where Unicode might be especially useful. Its open
model would seem to offer the hope that, with the right Unicode-based APIs,
the implementations could be gradually fleshed out by developers around the
world to handle most of the world's languages/script systems. Unfortunately,
single-byte text APIs won't provide the necessary foundation to enable such
a scenario, and it doesn't look likely that Linux's support for Unicode will
rival Windows' any time soon.

Glen Perkins


GP wrote:


>I understand the problem of dragging legacy balls-and-chains, but I
would think that any *new* "alternative to Windows" would start out
with a pure Unicode-based GUI API.

It's good to ask about Unicode, but bear in mind that the issues go
well beyond what encoding models are supported by text APIs. Correct
rendering of the various scripts included in Unicode is far from
trivial, even if only for the writing systems of the major languages
using those scripts, and not even MS has fully crossed that bridge.
And rendering is only one of several issues. If you're looking for a
GUI for Linux that really does what is needed to handle the way the
world writes, make sure all the issues are addressed!

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