Going Global? Check Your Software for Unicode Characters

Ensuring business systems support Unicode characters can ease entry for U.S. companies into global markets.

Who is doing it: Adoption of Unicode—a software standard for representing characters in most of the world’s alphabets—is far from universal in enterprise applications, says Mark Davis, president of the Unicode Consortium. Hewlett-Packard recently added Unicode support to its Trim records management software as it prepared to launch the product in Asia and in Russia. Without it, says Patrick Eitenbichler, a director of worldwide product marketing for HP, “it would be far more difficult to get started in those markets.”

How it works: Without Unicode, you can’t spell a foreign customer’s name correctly or accurately integrate your global databases. Writing software that incorporates Unicode is simple enough: most major programming languages support it. But Davis says that unless you ask your developers or vendors for it, you may get ASCII encoding, which covers only basic English.

Growth potential: As more English-centric businesses enter foreign markets, they want Unicode-compliant software, says Bill Sullivan, director of globalization and translation for IBM. But there’s a long way to go. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey admits that his company doesn’t offer a Chinese-language version of the service because most cell phone makers don’t yet support Unicode, limiting Twitter’s ability to send messages to mobile devices.  —Joab Jackson

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