This page explains in some more detail what is meant by an encoding system and what Unicode is. If you just want to use Japanese with your web browser or email and you are not curious about technical details, you can start on one of the earlier pages on this site. To represent character data numerically as in a computer file , one needs to decide on an encoding system that matches each numerical value to a specific character. Each national language has one or more different encodings associated with it.
So a single numerical value could represent any one of several different characters in several different languages: Therefore, for a computer to display text that has been encoded as numerical data an email message or a web page, for example , it needs to know what encoding system was used.
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If the encoding system is not specified explicitly in the email or on the web page, the email program or web browser will try to guess what encoding system was used, but this is not always easy. If the guess is wrong, the text will display as nonsense. You as the user can then tell the browser or email program to try interpreting the page with a different encoding system.
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You do this by selecting a different encoding choice from the encoding menu. Elsewhere, this site shows how to do this your web browser, for example.
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Unicode is a standard that solves some of the problems above by using a much larger set of numerical values, and trying to represent all the characters of all major languages in a single encoding set. Each number encodes a unique character in a single language. If you are wondering why a single universal standard should produce several different encodings, see the note on encoding versus character set below. Unicode encoding systems naturally include encodings for Japanese and other Asian Languages.
Virtually all Mac software is now "Unicode compatible," meaning you will be able to use Japanese with it once you have enabled Japanese on your system. See the first page of this site for information about how to do this.
Unicode has a few different advantages. One is that it can be used as a more or less single universal standard: For example, this makes it possible to open and save the same Japanese text file in several different software applications, even on different platforms like Mac, Unix, and Windows.
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