Re: ASCII and Unicode lifespan (was: Corrections to Glagolitic)

From: Doug Ewell (
Date: Tue May 17 2005 - 08:56:15 CDT

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    Peter Kirk <peterkirk at qaya dot org> wrote:

    > Whether tweaked or not, the useful life of most standards in the
    > computer industry has been very low. Few of the ones in use 25 years
    > ago are still in active use now, although some remain as subsets of
    > more comprehensive standards (which is the alternative to improving
    > the standard).

    It's usually considered better engineering practice to assume that a
    building, a bridge, or a standard will be in existence for a long time,
    and to build it so as to allow incremental upgrades such as earthquake
    retrofitting, than to assume its imminent obsolescence and underengineer

    > Any suggestion that Unicode will be around much beyond the lifetime
    > of its current proponents is sheer arrogance. I know someone has
    > suggested that it will last for 1000 years.

    Gosh, I wonder who you mean by that?

    > I am reminded of what happened to the Reich which was supposed to
    > lat 1000 years.

    Thus is Godwin's Law invoked.

    Hans Aberg <haberg at math dot su dot se> replied:

    > It can be instructive to check the history of ASCII. See for example
    > It says that the presently most widely used form is ANSI X3.4-1986.
    > So that standard has been in active use only 19 years.

    That's not a standard, it's a version of a standard. That would be like
    talking about the life expectancy of "Unicode 4.1" instead of "Unicode."

    For 99.9% of ASCII usage, there is no difference between the 1967
    version of ASCII and the 1986 update. I believe the update had to do
    with the issue of treating 0x24 as a nationally variable "currency sign"
    versus hard-coding it to the dollar sign.

    Peter responded:

    > Thank you, Hans. But I would suggest that ASCII is already obsolete,
    > in that almost no one still uses it. In practice they have long been
    > using supersets like any of the ISO-8859 variants or UTF-8. Of course
    > many users in practice restrict themselves largely to the original
    > ASCII subset. But I consider a standard which has been supersetted in
    > this way as no longer in active use.

    Quite a few standards and protocols are explicitly restricted to ASCII.
    It is not simply a matter of individual users limiting themselves to
    what's handy on their keyboard.

    Doug Ewell
    Fullerton, California

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