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with almost 50 years of unix history.

I think the point was that UNIX got it wrong, and we've been dealing with the consequences ever since. It's of course too late to change it, so yeah.

Maybe. But 50 years ago utf-8 didn't exist, unicode didn't exist, possibly not even latin-1 did exist. If unix had enforced a specific encoding (which implies constrains which byte values can appear in a path byte string), transition to newer encodings would have been significantly harder.

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