WSTech: Writing Systems Technology (formerly known as NRSI)
When to Convert to Unicode
Is it time to archive your data?
Over the long run, Unicode is going to become the only system for special characters in the world. In ten or twenty years, it is unlikely that any other data will be readable. So, when it comes time to archive data for people to use in the future, Unicode is really the only reasonable option.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to convert the data to Unicode yourself. Archives are generally happy to accept data in any form, as long as it meets certain minimal standards. So, if you are using some non-Unicode system, it can be contributed to the archive in that form, as long as there is enough information about your system that someone in the future could convert it to Unicode. Usually this means including a copy of any custom fonts you use plus a file that describes what characters are in the font and how they are coded.
Still, there are real advantages to converting the data now. After you are gone, there may be no one who knows the language well enough to check the result of the conversion to make sure nothing got garbled in the process. Or, there is the danger that data will sit in the archive unconverted for so long that today’s conversion tools no longer work or there is no one with the expertise to convert it. So, if you have the time and energy to work through the process, and there is a technician available to help you, it is better to do it now.
Back to When to Convert to Unicode.