This Feature does not even pretend to cover everything there is to know about Unicode, but it does offer a detailed introduction. It starts with an explanation between the terms character and glyph, important to understand if you are to understand the idea behind Unicode. A description of the main features and benefits of Unicode follows and the Feature ends by telling you what you can expect from Linotype fonts in relation to Unicode.

Characters and Glyphs

The difference between a character and a glyph is one to keep in mind while reading through this feature, as it is essential to understanding Unicode. A character is a member of a collection of elements (the alphabet) which serves to organize, control and/or present data. A glyph is a recognizable, abstract, graphic symbol. The table below presents a concrete example. The typefaces Times New Roman, Zapfino and Helvetica light all have an euro character, however, as you can see, each typeface has a different glyph to represent the character. Which means that the table below shows you one character, the euro, but three different glyphs used to represent it.

An Introduction

A Unicode font is one which is based upon and supports the Unicode standard. The basic idea behind Unicode is the unification of all written systems of the world in one character set. Unicode uses a 16 bit character sets, that is, 216 or 65,536 bits. That means that each character is assigned a unique 16 bit code. The euro currency symbol, for instance, has the code 20ac. To go back to the table above, each of the three glyphs have the same code because they represent the same character. The large number of places is needed to be able to include some of the larger alphabets, like Chinese, Japanese or Korean.

The Unicode standard covers not only letters and numerals but also diacritical symbols, punctuation, mathematical and technical symbols, dingbats, etc. In the latest version of Unicode, 3.0, 49,000 codes are already assigned and 6,400 are reserved for private use. For example, if a choreographer has symbols which she uses for her work, but which, because of their very specific use, have no code, she can assign these reserved codes to the symbols. Although the almost 65,000 codes of Unicode should be enough for the world’s written systems, the expansion system UTF-16 offers even more, 917,476 more codes, with 131,068 reserved for private use.

What Unicode Can Do For You

As it becomes more and more important to communicate with people all over the world, the benefits of Unicode become more and more evident. It is a universal system which will cover all symbols of the world’s written language systems and then some. This means that the platform, the operating system, the software you use will not affect the content of your document even if you send it to someone who works with another platform, operating system and/or software. In other words, language, whether of the software, the system, or the document, is no longer an issue. Unicode is supported by important software manufacturers like Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP, Sun, just to name a few. It is also a requirement for modern standards like XML, Java, JavaScript, etc. All modern browers support Unicode as well as many operating system, among others Windows 95 and up, Windows NT 4.0 and up, Mac 8.6 and up, Linux and other Unix systems.
Unicode also offers an efficient way to deal with text. Because Unicode is based on characters and not on glyphs, the way a text looks is not important, only its content is. Unicode will tell any system which is interested that the word with which it is working is composed of the characters t, y, p and e, in that order. Whether the text is set in Times New Roman or Helvetica is irrelevant, Unicode deals only with pure text. This increases the efficiency of computers working with the text, as the information they send, receive and analyze has only one unambiguous meaning.

Linotype and Unicode

More and more font users demand Unicode fonts, as you can probably well imagine, now that you have read about the many advantages. The two true Unicode fonts from Linotype are Linotype Palatino, to be included as a system font of Microsoft Windows 2000, and Heidelberg Gothic, the corporate font of Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG. These were both made for the PC platform, but would of course also be possible for Mac. There is no need to stop here, however, and you can expect to see more and more Unicode fonts in the Linotype.

Need To Know More?

Unicode is a topic which requires not just a page, but an entire site to cover its various aspects. Happily, such a site does exist and if this feature either awakened your interest and you want to know more, or if it did not include the information you needed, see the Unicode Home Page for more details.