Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Standards, Monopoly, and Interoperability

Jon Udell (not “John”) writes in “An Argument Against Standards” that standards are an inferior solution to the problem of technology monopolization. Open source is said to be a better solution because by abolishing ownership of the core technology, competing implementations are forks that are easily distinguishable from the standard.

That’s partly right, but misses the point that standards don’t just exist to prevent one party from monopoly – they exist to encourage interoperability. By encouraging a thousand flowers to bloom/fork, open source discourages interoperability.

I admit to being biased in favor of standards, having been involved in lots of standards efforts in the last decade (like xCBL, ebXML, and UBL) and am an elected member of the Board of Directors for OASIS, a standards organization. I am also favorably disposed towards open source. OASIS has been trying to establish constructive relationships with the open source community, but the thousand flowers problem is somewhat of a barrier to that. We’d love to set up a meeting with the CEO of open source.

-Bob Glushko

There are, in fact, several aspects to standards (whatever we mean by that term).
The original comment suggests creating a level playing field as one, Bob adds that interoperability is another, but there are more.
The idea that designers can leverage the patterns in standards fits nicely with the idea of natural selection and evolution of standards - and Document Engineering.
And, of course, lets not forget that skill sets are enhanced by standards. We still see job ads for IT staff that require experience in specific standards.
PS. I am also unsure that open source and standards are opposing arguments. In fact, I have just come from an ISO meeting were we learned of the progress of Linux to ISO specification status.
Forking may be a good thing for Open Source?

Why are open source developers so against forking? It's working out great for the BSD crowd it seems and we all get to share in the harvest with stuff like openssl and more.

As long as they continue to suport a common open standard for data exchange to fork is just seeding the seeds so that they may bloom.
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