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10 key technologies you couldn't live without

The keys to a digital age in an analogue world

You may not spend much time considering Unicode, XML, and digital signal processing, but you couldn't get through your day without them. We've uncovered the 10 most important technologies you use but never think about.

Unicode

We use computers for every kind of communication, from IM to email to writing a best-selling novel. The trouble is computers don't speak our language. They're all digital; before they can store or process text, every letter, symbol, and punctuation mark must first be translated into numbers.

So which numbers do we use? Early PCs relied on a code called ASCII, which took care of most of the characters used in Western European languages. But that's not enough in the age of the World Wide Web. What about Cyrillic, Hindi, or Thai?

Enter Unicode, the key to modern computing. The Unicode standard defines a unique number for every letter, symbol, or glyph in more than 30 written languages, and it's still growing.

At nearly 1,500 pages and counting, Unicode is incredibly complex, but it's been gaining traction ever since Microsoft adopted it as the internal encoding for the Windows NT family of operating systems.

Most of us will never need to know which characters map to which Unicode numbers, but modern computing could scarcely do without Unicode. In fact, it's what's letting you read this article in your web browser, right now.

NEXT PAGE: digital signal processing > >

  1. The keys to today's digital age
  2. Unicode
  3. Digital signal processing
  4. Managed code
  5. Transistors
  6. Why you couldn't live without XML
  7. Nonvolatile RAM
  8. Lithium ion batteries
  9. Voice over IP (VoIP) calls
  10. Graphics acceleration
  11. High-speed net access

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