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Fonts & Encodings by Yannis Haralambous

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1.3. EBCDIC

While the computer giant IBM had taken part in the development of ASCII-1963, it released in 1964 a new and highly appreciated line of computers, IBM System/360, whose low-end model came equipped with 24 kb (!) of memory. The development of these machines was the second most expensive industrial project of the 1960s, after NASA's Apollo program.. . .

The System/360 computers use the EBCDIC encoding (Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code, pronounced "eb-cee-dic"), an 8-bit encoding in which many positions are left empty and in which the letters of the alphabet are not always contiguous:

We may well ask: why are the letters of the alphabet distributed in so bizarre a manner in this encoding? Why did IBM insist so firmly on its EBCDIC encoding? To understand what happened, we need a bit of historical background.

In 1801 the Parisian weaver Joseph-Marie Jacquard used strings of punched cards to operate his looms, thus perfecting an invention by Basile Bouchon that dated to 1725. Seventy-nine years later, on the other side of the Atlantic, a census conducted in the United States was ruined. The failure resulted from the fact that it took 7 years (!) to process the data on the country's 31.8 million residents—so much time that the data were no longer up to date. Faced with this situation, the Census Bureau organized a contest to find an invention that could solve ...

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