I grew up in Ukraine and got a chance to deal with computers early in my life. As an average 8 year old boy I preferred playing Prince of Persia rather than doing anything meaningful, but a few years later I wondered what is needed to make my own game and started reading about programming using Basic. This was something new, mostly because of the language difference. It’s much easier to understand the meaning of commands GOTO or PRINT when they are your native words. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only issue.
The Ukrainian language has its own alphabet and there was no space for it in the default MS-DOS encoding whether MS-DOS Latin US or MS-DOS Latin-1. KOI8-R and later KOI8-U were created to solve this problem and people were able to switch between them and use their own language for computer input. Later on Microsoft introduced cp866 that never really caught on with users.
Windows 95 presented new encoding for cyrillic alphabets – cp1251. This brought a lot of confusion for users. It was common to get an email looking like gibberish because a client was not able to properly detect encoding. It looked like encrypted text for regular people and took some skill to decode back to regular text. Same thing happened while browsing the internet, old sites were in KOI8 encodings, newer ones in cp1251 and browsers were struggling to properly detect it.
As Microsoft Windows became dominant, many users switched to its email client and the email encoding problem was partially solved. Also, websites migrated to cp1251 or Unicode to make web more accessible. Developers were planning data storage with the encoding requirements and using multi language support as risk factor in their projects. The future was looking bright with the ability to use internet in any language desired.
At this point I moved to the United Stated, the world of the default encoding and default keyboard layout. It was much easier to work as a web developer using a single encoding ISO-8859-1. Unicode was gaining in popularity but was far away from being the gold standard in applications or web.
However, I had a new problem to deal with. A Ukrainian keyboard layout was not available out of the box on Microsoft Windows and required administrators access to install so I gave up on the idea of having it on anything other than my personal laptop. Once I received a Macbook as my new work laptop everything changed. Now I was able to enable my own keyboard layout. It gave me freedom of choice.
Also, the iPhone offered support for a Ukrainian keyboard out of the box – I didn’t have to search for a third party application with potential security risks like on Android devices. Because Apple devices supported every available localization option out of the box they set the gold standard for me. I forgot it could be any other way.
Unfortunately there is still a ways to go. For example, I consider the Fitbit Charge the best fitness tracker but its lack of Unicode support made me trade it for an Apple Watch. I wish more companies could follow Apple’s lead on this to make devices more accessible for people around the world.