WSTech: Writing Systems Technology (formerly known as NRSI)
When to Convert to Unicode
Do your colleagues use Unicode?
This question is unlike the others, because it relates to both ends of the window of opportunity. If you need to exchange data with people who have not made the switch to Unicode, then that may be reason for you to wait until they are ready to convert at the same time as you are. On the other hand, if you need to exchange data with people who have already made the switch, then it may well be time for you to join them. The question is especially important if you have to share data back and forth frequently, especially with people who are working together with you on the same project.
Now, we should clarify what we mean by “exchanging data”. If the other person just needs to be able to read your data, then almost always there are ways to make that possible. Most computers and operating systems support Unicode to some extent, so your Unicode data should be readable on other computers. Or, if you have legacy data and want to share it with people who use Unicode exclusively, you’ll have to remember to provide them with your fonts. (If nothing else, you can package the data in a PDF file with embedded fonts; that almost always works under both scenarios.)
But, if people need to merge your data with theirs, or you both need to make changes to the same files, then you are going to have to use the same special character system. Either that, or you will need a way to reliably convert the data back and forth, but that is the subject for the next section.
A special case of this question concerns publishers. If you are going to publish an article, a dictionary, or other item involving linguistic data, your publisher may have requirements that are different from yours; they may not be ready to use Unicode or they may require it. In that case, you will either have to convert your data to match their requirements, or they will, or you will need to find another publisher.
Back to When to Convert to Unicode.