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One of the SHARE members called me. “This isn’t an academic question. It will take millions of dollars to install. The conversion is expensive, the storage is expensive, and the memory is expensive.” Multi-byte code was just not academic.

http://www.unicode.org/history/hartinterview.html

What does word academic mean in that context?

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    See AHD meaning #4; Macmillan meaning #3. In this context, This isn't an academic question means, "This is an important question with real-world ramifications, not just some trivial matter."
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 13:07

2 Answers 2

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In your example

Academic = theoretical

In an academic setting, questions can be answered using simplifying assumptions without regard to real world implementation costs or frictions.

The phrase can also be academic exercise which emphasizes the abstraction even more.

You passage is pointing out that there are real costs involved in implementation and a cost benefit analysis may be necessary to decide if something is done. This degree of practicality is usually not imposed on theoretical (academic) solutions.

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There, academic means "debated philosophically without regard for practical considerations".

The second sentence is made confusing by "just not". "Not just" or "not merely" would have been better. Multi-byte code involved more than theoretical questions or questions posed in a manner that disregarded the real practical considerations.

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