Whassup with the 'Measurement System' on Windows?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/08/13 03:11 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2006/08/13/697037.aspx

I got lots of feedback from the post Our highly internationalized OS uses DPI, aka Dots Per In-.... um, never mind!, and one reminder from a friend about an old issue related to the Measurement System in Regional and Language Options:

The issue has to do with the choices -- U.S. or Metric, or if you deal with it via GetLocaleInfo/SetLocaleInfo, the LOCALE_IMEASURE, which is documented as follows:

System of measurement. The maximum number of characters allowed for this string is two, including a terminating null character. This value is 0 if the metric system (Systéme International d'Units, or S.I.) is used, and 1 if the U.S. system is used.

As I mentioned in that DPI post, there are only three countries that have apparently not embraced the metric system: the US, Liberia, and Myanmar. But Microsoft can't sell Windows in Myanmar for Wassenaar Arrangement reasons, so I suppose the string U.S. could in theory be replaced with U.S./Liberia, though this hardly seems like a "must do immediately" type of operation....

Many folks around here have suggested that this should be called the Imperial or perhaps the English measurement system, though since the US is really not technically an empire and England does not use the English system, it seems like such a change is for many customers an invitation to confusion, population many.

The .NET Framework gets around most of this with its RegionInfo.IsMetric property:

true if the country/region uses the metric system for measurements; otherwise, false.

Though of course since it is only available in the RegionInfo class and not via the CultureInfo or NumberFormatInfo classes, it is not the most convenient setting in the world to use.

And if you consider ChrisJ's comment to the DPI post:

The UK, although technically metric, a large number of the population still uses the imperial system by default, although this is changing as the population moves. I'm 30 and I still think of distances in feet and inches. I meausre my furniture in feet and do the conversion to mm later when I remember Ikea doesn't actually do measurements in feet... :-)

On top of that, we measure distances twixt town in miles, fuel economy is miles per gallon even though we buy petrol by the litre, we buy beer (and often milk) in pints (the latter being rather bizarre: due to EU regulations, the metric value has to have as much prominence, if not more so on the packaging, so often you'll be buying 568ml of milk). We get whether forecasts that will give us both degrees C and F, etc, but wind speeds are miles-per-hour.

If there is going to be a measurement system option in Vista, it really does need a separate UK setting or the ability to customise it fully :-)

Clearly the problem is that the one setting by itself really does not cover everything anyway. Though even in the Imperial system the differences between US vs. UK measurements make a single setting or even collection of settings somewhat problematic.

(good info on the Imperial system can be found here)

In the end, it is not a terribly useful setting. It is probably not worth changing since even if it were made into something both intuitive and accurate, its overall lack of usefulness is hard to get past....


This post brought to you by (U+1020, a.k.a. MYANMAR LETTER LLA)

# Dean Harding on 13 Aug 2006 4:38 AM:

I am reminded of that Simpsons episode, where Grampa Simpsons complains: "My car gets forty rods to the hogshead, and that's the way I likes it!"

When I was in the UK (actually, in a Whiskey distillery... but that's another story) I actually found out what a hogshead was - it's the size of a winebarrel. And since a rod is about 5 metres (according to Wikipedia) then 40 rods to a hogshead is pretty bad fuel economy!!

# ester on 13 Aug 2006 6:08 AM:

it's good, and i dont want to say anything

# Christoph Päper on 13 Aug 2006 9:29 AM:

If your read the Wikipedia article on the metric system, you’d know that the USA in fact has officially “embraced” the metric system /at least/ as much as any customary units. It’s just the Merkins who haven’t. The Liberia/Burma thing is something for Myth Busters.

Anyhow, any such OS-wide setting is moot indeed, because it is too inaccurate. Therefore any program that is affected by the decision on the system of measurement has its own preferences for that, for example word processors for “pt” vs. “mm”. There would have to be a tab on its own that included temperature scale (°C/°F, even K, e.g. for CPU meters and weather widgets), road/survey unit(s) (e.g. GIS applications), desktop units (e.g. paper and screen sizes), DTP/printing units (see above) and many more. Luckily even in the USA metric units (volt, ampere, ohm) are used in electronics and most fields of science.

As the current US customary “system” just like the Imperial system (1824–1995) is a certain variant of the many English systems, “English” would have been a name too generic, “English (US)” might have worked, cf. keyboard layouts. “US/Liberia” is nonsense, because who tells you that people in Liberia were using exactly the same conventions as those in the United States?

Would it be possible to have a generic ISO-fanatic language-independent locale in Vista, that complied to ISO 31, 8601 and others (of ourse using a true minus sign, too)?

# Michael S. Kaplan on 13 Aug 2006 9:59 AM:

Hi Christoph,

In theory, the US has; in practice, the metric system is not what is used to measure anything at all.

I know, because I live here and buy products here. No need to read Wikipedia to have it tell me what is in every store and gas station in the country!

It is too late to add new locales to Vista, sorry. Though anyone can create a custom locale in Vista that complies to any standard they like? :-)

# Michael S. Kaplan on 13 Aug 2006 10:04 AM:

Before anyone jumps on the bandwagon of the theory of the US having embraced metric, remember that consumers have not yet, and Windows is a consumer operating system. :-)

# Richard on 16 Aug 2006 2:56 AM:

> Many folks around here have suggested that this should be called the Imperial or perhaps the English measurement system

That would be confusing. Afterall there are several commonly named measures that differ between the Imperial and US systems (most well known being pints and gallons; US gallon is about 3.8l, but Imperial gallon is about 4.5l).

However I'm not sure that Windows uses volume measurements yet.

referenced by

2006/10/25 It is a challenge to make ClearType irrelevant

go to newer or older post, or back to index or month or day