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RE: International business communications and Unicode

From: Carl W. Brown <cbrown@xnetinc.com>
Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2001 08:10:22 -0700
To: <www-international@w3.org>

> -----Original Message-----
> From: www-international-request@w3.org
> [mailto:www-international-request@w3.org]On Behalf Of Gibson, Emma
> Sent: Wednesday, August 22, 2001 11:34 PM
> To: 'www-international@w3.org'
> Subject: International business communications and Unicode
> Hello all
> Emma Gibson is my name and I am a Virtual Communications Masters
> student at
> RMIT University in Australia. Martin Druest recommended I throw this
> research question out to you all, as you would be the most qualified to
> reply.
> As part of our studies,  we are looking at the use of the internet to
> establish global business communication networks - especially the
> impact of
> cross-cultural issues on the effectiveness of the medium.
> I decided to focus on accessibility as a cross-cultural issue, as it
> obviously has global resonance and also because in my professional life in
> Australia I have encountered a great deal of ignorance about, and
> resistance
> to the use of these guidelines. In researching further I came across the
> topic of internationalisation and Unicode.
> I have no doubt my questions will cause a few eyes to roll :) as I haven't
> even grasped the basics, but having surveyed my classmates - all
> of whom are
> purportedly in training to become global virtual communication managers,
> no-one had heard of Unicode. When I started to research it I'm afraid my
> technical ignorance left me a bit stumped.
> So, if someone has the time, what I would love to know is:
> 1. Is Unicode the great salvation?  Could a business manager utilise this
> technology and build a website that would then be accessible to every
> country and culture without needing local content providers/
> translators? (
> is there a dummies guide?)

Computers know nothing about characters so they use code pages to represent
characters.  A code page is a map that maps numeric values to characters.
As you can imagine the mappings are purely arbitrary. As computers have
evolved most of these code pages have developed from other code pages so
there are many similarities between code pages.  Most code pages are limited
to 256 characters because that it the maximum set of number you can fit into
one byte (8 bits).  Obviously you can not fit all of the characters for the
world's languages into one of these character sets.  So now there are
thousands of different character sets.  Unicode is essentially a character
set the includes all the characters for most languages.

> 2. Is there information on the Net about the impact of Unicode on global
> business communication, with a focus on the human beings who use it/ will
> use it rather than the technical elements?

Most of the Unicode technology you don't see.  For example all the Windows
True Type fonts are Unicode encoded.  Your English operating system has to
convert to Unicode to display or print.  What is the advantage?  If for
example, I use a Unicode call to display or print text I can mix scripts if
I use a font that covers multiple scripts or concatenate fonts that support
different scripts.  The Microsoft Internet Explorer is Unicode based so that
it can display text in many different languages using different scripts.
Netscape has rewritten much of its Navigator 4.x product to produce a 6.0
version that is Unicode based because the old code did not support
multilingual processing properly.

> 3. As the people creating and working with this technology every day, why
> would you think it was essential for future business/ communications
> managers to understand its scope and potential?

Take a web site for example.  You have all you pages encoded in a character
set that supports English and other Western European languages.  You want to
add French or German you create a new set of pages that are translated into
French or German and have a separate set of links so that the French page
links to another French page and the German page links to another German

Now you decide to add Japanese.  You can translate the pages into Japanese
and use a separate character encoding to accommodate the Japanese.  The
problem you have is that you discover that if you use a single database for
the web site that you have to be able to store data from any language in the
data base.  Unicode is the solution to this problem.  If you want to mix
Japanese and Thai for example, there are not a lot of other ways to do it
that are as clean and well supported as Unicode.

You now find that some one just updated your Japanese code page with an
editor that thought it was updating English text and destroyed the page
because it scrambled the data.  (Remember that text is just a series of
numbers to the computer)  Now you take the next step and convert everything
to Unicode.  Every page will still be translated into different language but
you only have one encoding.

The future is different.  My personal view is that web content will be
developed without any language specific text.  When the page is fetched from
the server the text will be added dynamically.  If I have a phrase that I
want to insert, it will be pulled in from a database using the appropriate
language.  This will reduce the amount of translation because I can reuse
previous translations and not have to translate every new page.

English only will never happen.  Different languages express different
cultural ideas that can not be expressed in other languages.  The world has
to take advantage of these differences.  I have found that a culture's
strengths are often also its weaknesses.

Received on Thursday, 23 August 2001 11:10:22 UTC

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