Unicode ate swiftly

Unicode 8 has arrived at last. Yes, folks, you may now use the unicorn as much as you want. Well, kinda. Unicode 7 took forever to be widely implemented, even on the mobile devices we most expect emoji from. Despite the fact that Google and Apple are part of the Unicode consortium, they've got bigger fish to fry like plummeting stock and a failed gadget release.

On the other hand, third party developers behind SwiftKey only care about making their keyboard as useful as possible. As a long time Swype user, I'm impressed. I never paid attention before because their main selling point seemed to be themes. It also cost money.

They provide fairly accurate predictability, similar to that of Swype (which far exceeds even the Google Keyboard). There are some other nice customization options that Swype doesn't have and it seems to have everything Swype has, minus the gestures.

But it has really accessible emoji support. Given their new relationship with the Unicode Consortium, I imagine they'll be the first to give us good support for 8 and next summer's 9, which will give us a face palm at long last. That should prove useful to the thumb aching fools using standard soft keyboards and lame old emotions. ;-) 👎

It's also great to see they are an open source-friendly company. SwiftKey may not be freely licensed, but they have an organization on GitHub with repos that at least show some activity this year. Everyone's got to start somewhere. At least they're not freedom haters. In fact, their latest Greenhouse project, Clarity, which is essentially a testing ground for upcoming features, uses the Eclipse-licensed Lispy-goodness, Clojure!

As for Ubuntu, it's hard to say when we'll see Unicode 8 support. I would consider it a priority for Ubuntu developers, at least for the other additions to Unicode 8 that seem like they would be to Ubuntu's larger internationalization effort. There's even some new glyphs for Ubuntu's home continent of Africa. My guess is we'll see it soon. However, I think it's clear that Ubuntu phones will be lagging around those of us who still use Android (or iOS, but who does that?).

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unicorns und Unicode

Certainly you've all noticed by now that Ubuntu Utopic Unicorn has been out for a while. If you haven't it doesn't have a ton of exciting changes relative to the previous release, but it's got some nice little fixes to add on to an otherwise stellar release. It's also not so exciting because there's a lot of effort towards making big changes. Two examples that come to mind are Unity 8 for Ubuntu, Plasma 5 for Kubuntu and LXQt for Lubuntu, to mention a few.

I'm happy to announce that the neat little origami unicorn logo that Canonical came up with for the release (like in Blade Runner) is now available in t-shirt form for both men and women.

It may be interesting to know that despite often referring to a rare item, unicorns are not exactly so special in the open source world. For example, there's Unicorn, the Ruby HTTP server or its port, Green Unicorn aka gunicorn. Or there's the validating Unicorn of the W3C. There's even the unique UDP flooding/DoS utility, UDP Unicorn.

This comparison to rarity has found its way into some more sardonic circles of the open source world. For example there's the Unicorn Law—that if you are a woman in open source, you will eventually give a talk about being a woman in open source. Or consider the Unicorn Model of Open Source—that hoardes of developers and testers are constantly working on open source and problems will be fixed nearly immediately.

One thing that is soon not to be rare on your favorite device is an actual unicorn. Emoji, that is. According to the recent report on Unicode Emoji, there should be a Unicorn Face by the middle of next year in Unicode 8.

Unicode is the "universal character set" that allows the world's languages and many non-textual glyphs to be represented. For example, without Unicode, I'd have to use three periods (...) instead of the actual ellipsis character (…). Or if I wanted to indicate a change in text flow with more strength than a comma but but less than a period, I might use an em dash (—) rather than two en dashes (--). In a more complex example, I might be taking a class on logic and need to use symbols like therefore (∴), not (¬), if and only if (⇔), xor (⊕), for any (∀), etc. For example, I can say there exists a number in the set of natural numbers where the number is even like so: ∃ n ∈ ℕ: n is even. This is simply not possible without Unicode.

Similarly, other languages can be represented. How could one better greet Laotians than through their own language? Without Unicode I wouldn't be able to even say ສະບາຍດີ. Or maybe you've gotten into an altercation in Iceland? Það var misskilningur, of course. Certainly, there's no better way to greet someone in Arabic than السلام عليكم.

But text is not the only way we communicate with one another. In fact, the use of graphical glyphs is so common in Japan, it inspired the Unicode Consortium to inclulde them into the character set. Now you can even reference the Philip K. Dick book that inspired Blade Runner entirely with emoji: 📱💭⚡🐑❓.

It's gone as far as even being able to present diversity through Unicode!

That being said, there's a lot of work to be done when it comes to missing glyphs in fonts. If you're interested in font design, I encourage you to check out Design With FontForge for everything you need to know about font design, as well as the open source tool you need to do it in Linux. Once you've got that figured out, you can start by contributing to existing fonts on the Open Font Library.

Speaking of fonts, the one called Ubuntu has pretty darn good Unicode support, but it is not exhaustive as they might suggest. I recommend the Adobe open source fonts, in particular Source Sans Pro, which is employed here. For the really bleeding edge emoji, I use EmojiSymbols, much to my chagrin, as it comes with rather restrictive licensing. There's Phantom Open Emoji but I struggle to call it open and it's not complete, either. If someone knows of another solution, please let me know!

Now if only there was a "heaven" glyph…

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