Unicode on the Web and in e-mail

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh, Technology
May 8th, 2008 • 3:21 pm

The Official Google Blog has some pretty encouraging news about the recent uptick in the proportion of native Unicode web pages. There has been a pretty dramatic increase in the past couple of years, to the extent that, according to Google, Unicode is now the most frequent encoding found on web pages.

It would be interesting to try and pinpoint the reasons for this sudden surge.

And it would also be interesting to compare this with trends in Unicode use in e-mail communications. Sadly, my own experience suggests that things are probably not as improved in e-mail as they are on the web. I don’t have statistics about how many e-mail messages in my Inbox are encoded using Unicode, but I doubt very much that it represents more than a small minority.

And I am still occasionally encountering situations where messages (often forwarded messages) lose their proper encoding and are rendered improperly, which makes them unreadable and unusable if they contain any non-ASCII characters.

Of course it does not help that Apple’s own Mail application still does not seem to be able to use Unicode by default. The default text encoding when composing a new message is “Automatic” and, in my experience, that means that the message is encoded in ISO-Latin1. I have to manually select the Unicode option (in the “Message” menu) each and every time I compose a message.

Needless to say, I don’t do that, and I doubt very much that many Mac users do. If Entourage’s own interface is any indication, the situation isn’t any better on the Microsoft side.

It’s undoubtedly harder to force IT people to implement proper Unicode support and the use of Unicode as the default encoding in e-mail communications than it is for web pages, where the author of the web page is more in control and there are fewer potential pitfalls between author and reader.

But I am still hoping that, in the not-too-distant future, we’ll all be able to use the full range of Unicode characters in our e-mail communications without having to worry about whether they’ll be readable—and without being forced to switch to HTML e-mail (gasp!) either.

2 Responses to “Unicode on the Web and in e-mail”

  1. ssp says:

    I haven’t tried it myself, but if you’re unhappy with the encodings Mail uses for the messages, there seems to be a preference in Mail for that which you may want to play with.

    The most convenient way to do that is probably the Secrets preference pane, but I’m sure the good old defaults command will do the trick as well…


  2. jking says:

    Opera is likewise a wee bit disappointing: outgoing encoding for new accounts defaults to iso-9959-15; just don’t ask me why. Changing it to utf-8 is trivial, though. I send all mail as UTF-8, even though I don’t think I’ve ever sent anything that wasn’t plain ASCII unless it quoted someone else.

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