When a page calls for a character the browser can't display, the browser substitutes a little box, a question mark or some other mark. The computer can't display the character because
Personal computers originally used a scheme called ASCII to store and manipulate characters. In ASCII each letter is represented by one byte, or 8 bits, which gives a maximum of 256 possible letters. That is much fewer than the number of characters in the world's languages. A new code, called Unicode, was devised. Among other features, Unicode uses characters two bytes wide, that is, 16 bits, so a total of 65,536 characters can be represented. The computer's operating system has to be designed to handle Unicode.
Some pages (and eventually all pages) in this site use Unicode font encoding, containing, for example, Cyrillic and Vietnamese characters and fractions not found in the usual Windows character set. The Unicode font we originally had in mind for the site was Verdana, which Microsoft commissioned from the distinguished typographer Matthew Carter, asking him to design for legibility on a CRT monitor. Verdana is a sans-serif font; we also call for Georgia, a Unicode serif font, but only for the usual character set.
Originally we represented words in languages that don't use a Roman alphabet, such Greek, Hebrew, Russian and Chinese, with graphics. That causes many problems, especially for viewers who need to change the type size. Gradually we are replacing these graphics with type. Sometimes we need characters that are not available in Verdana and must call for a font with a bigger character set, such as Tahoma. And to display the ideograms of Chinese and Japanese, it is not enough to simply install the font, one must also configure the operating system. Nevertheless, for many reasons – enabling search being one of them – we feel we should eventually be 100% character-based, with no words as graphics. We regret that in the short run that means some users will not be able to see the word.
See the list at Alan Wood's excellent site, www.alanwood.net/unicode/browsers.html
Again, check out www.alanwood.net/unicode/fonts.html
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Last revised: 22 November 2005.