Re: "Difficult Characters" draft (in URLs)

Alain LaBont/e'/ <> Sun, 11 May 1997 22:23 UTC

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Date: Sun, 11 May 1997 18:03:20 -0400
To: "Martin J. Duerst" <>, Alain LaBont/e'/ <>
From: Alain LaBont/e'/ <>
Subject: Re: "Difficult Characters" draft (in URLs)
Cc: URI mailing list <>
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A 18:23 97-05-11 +0200, Martin J. Duerst a écrit :
>> [Alain] :
>> Facts:
>> 1. Keyboards exist in France to do that although they are not spread like
>>    they are in Canada.
>"Keyboards exist" is not very helpful. If the market penetration of such
>keyboards is 10%, we better leave out UCAL; if it is 95%, we don't
>have to worry much.

In [French] Canada, more than 95%. In France, so far low, but on the
increase. The fact is that not so many people complain about their keyboard
to enter uppercase letters, and most environments are really Windows and
Mac, which allow them to enter upper case characters *at the keyboard or
with a GUI* easily for the *relatively* rare cases where they occur in

>> 2. You also suggested that the general practice is to copy a URL as is,
>>    which is easy with current browsers and GUIs.
>By this, you probably mean cut/copy/paste, which is copying inside
>the computer. That's of course not a problem, but that's not our
>concern. Our concern is how easy it is to transfer UCAL from paper
>to the computer.

From paper: by OCR : no problem at all;
            by hand: back to problem of cut/copy/paste | macros | AltNum

IMHO, there is no more problem than in the first case.

>> 3. It is also easy to copy a character, say under Windows or Mac, which is
>>    the real environment for a vast majority of users, even if the majority
>>    of Franco-French users don't have a keyboard with all upper case
>>    letters.
>That's point 1. But it could work for paper->computer transfer if there
>is a resonable chance that the user has a document with these characters
>around. If not, he may be able to ask a French Canadian friend to send
>him a mail with all these in it :-).

Right. (:  These things exist in all Windows/Mac environments and on many
other UNIX or IBM systems too (I would say most, if they are 8-bit enabled).

>>    It is also possible to use macros to speed access to those
>>    characters or to any character that is frequently used but that you
>>    have on your keyboard. Finally the <ALT><NumKeypad> is a widely-known
>>    dirty but useful practice in France for which there were even protests
>>    when one manufacturer removed this possibility on portables...
>Yes. How well does the average user, not the DOS/Windows freak, in
>France know these things? How many users just move their fingers to
>the respective keys when they see the character? How many have
>to ask some friend what the number for a particular letter was?
>How many have to go and check the manual?

Most users of Windows Word or Macs know about this... I don't personally
know about Word macros because I did not yet have to make one of those. But
it is easy in particular with the increasingly easy help system which are
more and more intuitive and which even lead you directly to doing the thing
when you need it (active intuitive help).

>> 4. The most important: they now teach (or recommend to teach) in
>> Franco-French 
>>    schools to put accents on capital letters when the hardware can
>>    them (which is the case all the time with browsers and current graphic 
>>    technology). If you wish I could give references.
>No problem; I trust you. But how many people are there that have
>done school in the earlier days where this was different? How many
>people are there that believe that capital letters are not supposed
>to have accents, because they have been told so in school?

The majority of those using computers believe this less and less as they
have been exposed to endless discussions about this in French-speaking
forums, the constant conclusion being what is established by all
authorities inluding the century-long exceptions, the schools.

>> 5. Typographers might correct what appears a spelling mistake to them in
a URL 
>>    in a magazine. I see this all the time. Now for typographers, upper case
>>    accented letters even in France were always considered sacro-sanct, in
>>    spite of what was taught in schools before because of embarrassment
>>    mechanical typewriter technology (to avoid pupils' burn-outs (; )
>So this means that to be exact, we would have to advise against
>uppercase letters that if written correctly carry an accent,
>in both forms (with or without an accent).

You mean "about" instead of "against". If that is what you mean, and if you
really want a comment on this, yes. I'm not sure you mean this though. If
you mean restrict upper case letters, I would not agree if all upper case
letters are not restricted. What you wrote was ambiguous to my
French-speaking mind.

>> The best compromise that could be done *at the limit* would be to be silent
>> on this. But at least **don't** *recommend* to "avoid using upper case
>> accented capitals", which will be interpreted as "avoid putting accents on
>> capital letters"
>If you think it will be interpreted this way, we have to be more
>clear about it.

Don't even recommend avoiding accented upper case letters if you do not say
that all upper case letters are to be avoided too. That would be a msitake
from a user interface point of view.

>The main goal of the draft is to advise against letters that
>may cause confusion and problems. In the case of UCAL, you
>seem to see a conflict with another goal, namely to tell
>people how to use their writing system correctly. The current
>state of things is that the writing system cannot be used
>correctly (ASCII only). The more we improve on this, the
>better. If current keyboard deployment and the consequeces
>of typewriter-adapted school education over decades make
>it advisable to be careful about certain letters, then
>there is nothing bad about it if we make this clear.
>The draft is supposed to be a guideline for creating URLs,
>to avoid the bad surprises of a user not finding a resource.
>If we avoid a recommendation despite the fact that we knew
>there was some problem, that's a bad idea.

I don't really see problems on the long run with upper case accented
letters. If there are, there are problems with upper case and that should
be restricted even for the Americans.

>> unless you recommend at once to avoid capital letters for
>> everybody, not only the French-speaking people.
>That's clearly an argument I can't accept. A lot of scripts don't
>even have case distinctions. This is no reason that those scripts
>that do have such a distinction shouldn't be able to use it. Some
>scripts have more letters than others. Saying that a script A can
>only use so and so many letters because B doesn't have more than
>that is very strange.

We're talking about the Latin script, obviously. Case does not even exist
for alot of other scripts.

You say "This is no reason that those scripts
that do have such a distinction shouldn't be able to use it."

That's the reasons whey we should even recommend to use accented upper case
letters in French. There is a distinction in French...

That's the reason why if we say that it should be avoided it should be
avoided, whether there are accents or not. Otherwise it is detrimental to
French-spoeakers, you put restrictions and ask them to learn new rules
about their language. We try to get out of the mechanical typewriter
confusion, it is not the time to try to recreate it.

>The story is that *some* French in the past messed up UCAL when
>they introduced typewriters. The great majority of the French
>at least went silently with it. Newer technology is on the way
>to fix this. We either judge that the situation is currently
>fixed well enough, or we judge that it will still take some
>time. Either way, we can't let the rest of the world be affected
>by the messy French situation, as well as French shouldn't
>be affected by problems in other languages and scripts.

Then don't make an exception for French. Upper case accented letters should
not be avoided.

Alain LaBonté