We really need standards in almost every field. standard are really helpful to collaborate with different organization. very nice article thanks! keep posting such type of articles.
Standards: Do We Really Need Them?
I have decided to write this article because I became gradually interested with online collaboration technologies and with their ability and potential to influence and shape the kind of future we are going to be living in.
I am not certainly a specialist in the field of standards, but as an expert communicator, facilitator and presenter I am quite interested in understanding
a) the benefits that selecting technologies from one vendor or another may actually determine in the overall market scenario that will be developing
b) our effective limitations and potential to communicate and collaborate with individuals and companies alike, no matter their technical setup, preferred technology and choice of software.
As an independent reporter I also feel somewhat compelled to analyze this issue. The reasons are many:
1) Not many people are many pay attention to the issue of "standards" outside of the industry experts. The issue is still outside of most people "radars".
2) Standards have a critical importance on the future development of our abilities to collaborate and interact outside of boundaries and rules dictated only by commercial entities.
3) Marketing copy from most communication and collaboration vendors treats "standards" as old-fashioned, not able to produce cutting-edge results, and stifling innovation capabilities and market competitiveness of private commercial interests. Everyone wants a piece of the pie and they want it now.
4) The online world is soon ripe to provide a seamless voice/data communication infrastructure that is more powerful and pervasive than any of the existing public telephone networks was ever able to achieve, and capable of sidestepping all monitoring and boundaries previously imposed by large telephone companies. As you now know, you can already talk and conference with people around the world with a ridicule money investment and use of the latest VoIP technologies and services.
Standards are to play a big role in determining the amount of potential we realize in this revolution toward extending and multiplying the capabilities of most to communicate/collaborate in real-time across physical distances and across different software vendors and brands vs. favouring only those who can afford it with solutions developed by a handful of companies.
5) I have realized that I have been myself too superficial, short -sighted and ignorant of what is the true difference in becoming an active and aware ethical and intelligent "chooser" of my technologies versus taking only the latest and the "apparently" best. When digital tools become information, sharing, communication and collaboration tools my choices influence not just the kick I get out of them but also my effective ability to interact and work with many other people around the world, with different needs, setups, ideas and expectations. My world doesn't center only around NYC or London. In this respect, I have understood that the greatest good I can make is to take a stance that allows these people to have the broadest number of choices for their collaboration/communication tools and to make them slowly appreciate how the interoperability of anyone of these extends their potential and consequent benefits of both them and me by orders of magnitude.
But what kind of standards do we need?
Let me first take you on a short tour allowing us to better understand what "standards" are and some of the reasons why they would be important to us.
The Living Standards
"Compared with most other areas of computing, the Internet is unique in the way it has developed a set of universally accepted protocols, technologies and specifications that define its structure, architecture and the procedures for its continuing evolution.
All of them were agreed without involving any of the big established international standards bodies and with the minimum of chest beating.
By contrast, even the so-called de facto standards usually have a rival, or quirky implementation.
The trouble is it takes standards bodies so long to agree on a mutually acceptable standard that by the time it reaches ratification it's either out of date, or the original drafts have been so compromised to satisfy the demands of competing suppliers that what's left is all but useless.
The nature of international standards bodies can also result in standards that are so detailed and long-winded as to be prohibitively expensive to comply with.
The rules that apply to setting standards for tyres, for example, are the same as those for setting network standards. Also, each member is a country (represented by their own national standards body) rather than a company or other smaller organisation, which can result in a loss of expertise.
Rather than ask formal standards bodies like the ISO, IEC, IEEE (Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), or ANSI (American National Standards Institute) to ratify and regulate their chosen standards, these pioneers formed their own committees and bodies to oversee the management and future development of their beloved Net.
Perversely what we've ended up with is a set of protocols that have received no formal ratification from any of the big standards bodies, aren't enforced, and yet have become so ubiquitous, so universally accepted that they are as important as anything the ISO could have ratified.
Furthermore these are 'living' standards, which means they are in common use and are updated and improved on an almost daily basis.
What the Net has done is demonstrate what can be achieved with a clear idea of how to solve specific problems and a little co- operation."
Source: DNJ Online - Setting New Standards
The problem with standards as most people perceive them, is that they almost always promote someone's commercial agenda, and almost always to the detriment of someone else's (commercial agenda).
Companies today prefer to develop their own fast solution enabling them to quickly cash in the market their new ideas rather than choosing to cooperate-collaborate with other vendors to develop newer and better standards allowing immensely greater future functionality and interoperability for all.
For example many companies today are trying to decide between J2EE and .Net as their primary development platform. But is this the real issue?
"I don't think it's .Net versus J2EE. I think there's an ecosystem being created that is either open standards-based, or that's proprietary.
Once you are in the proprietary system, you have a single vendor who will choose their pricing and will choose who their partners are and what kind of technologies you use. When it's open, you create choice and flexibility.
IBM's been on the other side of this argument in the 80s and we learned the hard way, because we couldn't compete with a faster moving industry.
It's not that you can choose anything and integrate, the bottom line is that .Net technologies only runs on Windows, it only runs on Intel, only on Active Directory and SQL Server."
Source: VNUnet.com - Putting collaboration back into business by James Watson
Of course if I go and ask anyone in the online collaboration, Web or video conferencing industries about their stand on open standards, this is the type of answer that I am going to get:
"On one hand, the small, struggling start-up needs to be able to stake the claim of "standards" or be dismissed as a proprietary technology.
However, without a deep pocketbook for acquiring/licensing the appropriate protocol stacks, the company must rely on using "open source" stacks and performing slight stack changes anyway to optimize the protocol for the environment it wishes to sell into.
For example, I can take open H.323 and incorporate it, but it will not reliably communicate with Polycom, Tandberg, and the like. As soon as I modify the H.323 stack, it can be argued that I am no longer "standards based", even though I am using H.323."
According to most Web conferencing companies in the industry developing "standards-based" communications products is indeed apparently a double-edged sword.
By selling the common belief that adopting open source code alone may not allow enough differentiation, many of not even tried considering the long term benefits of adopting the interoperability road.
But this is just a point of view.
There are indeed an increasing number of companies leveraging the riches of open standards to develop uniquely useful tools that have gained tremendous competitive edge simply by way of a uniquely effective user interface design or by integrating the technology in other more sophisticated tools.
Do new and small companies need to wait for some of the (software) giants to gain enough acceptance and market share to recognize their technology as de facto "standard"?
Why don't I then develop my own "standard" while the others can keep their own?
Clearly, this is a rhetorical question, and the discussion is, of course, frustratingly recursive.
"...years ago at Interwise, we looked at T.120 and realized that to support it we would have to relinquish a fundamental piece of our technology - the fact that clients with slow connections do not affect the performance of clients with fast connections. So we decided to not support the standard..."
"We think the situation is different for software-based, instantly available services and for hardware-based services. If you pay $20,000 for a videoconferencing system, you want to make sure it is based on standards. But with services like SightSpeed, anyone you collaborate with can instantly get the service, so the "standard" is established between the two parties right then and there."
So, you can see that while I can't make Brad Treat wrong for providing us with his excellent and very cost-effective service, the greatest obstacle to standardization and interoperability of these collaboration tools is in truth the inability of the market leaders to work collaboratively (or to see an opportunity in this to gain extra competitive edge).
Though these people are in business thanks to a whole system - the Internet - based on open-standards, they seem to forget too easily the road from which they have gotten where they are.
What if railway tracks were all different sizes?
What if car tires were all different and you had to buy yours only from your own car manufacturer?
What if screws and bolts were built and made in different ways and needed different screws and tools depending from whom you had bought them?
How difficult would it be if different plugs existed in different houses or if one type expansion card like the Sony SmartStick fits only their brand of consumer products and not others? Who is really benefiting there?
In principle, standards would be beneficial both to designers as well as to end users of any product or service.
But then, what do we really mean when we say standards, and what can you do about them?
What is a standard?
A standard is a framework of specifications that has been:
a) approved by a recognized standards organization (de jure standard),
b) is accepted as a de facto standard by the industry or
c) belongs to the open standards.
That is what we take normally for granted, but if we look a little deeper here is what we find in the Oxford Concise Dictionary:
"1. An object or quality or measure serving as a basis or example or principle to which others should conform or by which the accuracy or quality is judged.
2a. The degree of excellence and so on required for a particular purpose.
2b. Average quality (as in 'of low standard').
3. The ordinary procedure, or quality or design of a product, without added or novel features.
4. A document specifying nationally or internationally agreed properties, for manufactured goods. For example the European standard for CE marking.
5. A thing recognised as a model for imitation."
Standards exist for most anything from paper formats, to programming languages, operating systems, data formats, communications protocols, and electrical interfaces.
From a user's standpoint, standards are extremely important in the computer industry because they allow the synergy or interoperability of tools from different manufacturers enabling the creation of more customizable, advanced and powerful systems.
Without standards, only hardware and software from the same company could be used together.Source: Weboped ia
To summarize: Three basic types of standards are today in existence and prevalent in the IT industry:
a) De facto standards
b) De jure standards
c) Open standards
a) De facto standardsare standards defined as such because they have acquired this credential "not because it has been approved by a standards organization but because it is widely used and recognized by the industry as being standard."
"A de facto standard, for instance, is a technical or other standard that is so dominant that everybody seems to follow it like an authorized standard. The de jure standard may be different: one example is the metric unit of kilometre, which is the de jure standard for road distances in the United States, while the mile (1.609 * 103 meters) is the de facto standard."
Source: De facto-standard
These are formats that have become standard simply because a large number of companies have agreed to use them. They have not been formally approved as standards, but they are standards nonetheless.
Some examples of de facto standards include:
a) The Hayes command set for controlling modems
d) The Hewlett-Packard Printer Control Language (PCL) for laser printers.
e) The Adobe PostScript page description language for laser printers.(Adobe PostScript is a page description language allowing the transfer of high quality designs, typography and graphics from system to system without any loss of quality).
In simple words, the above "standards" have been approved by the market, even though they have not been "defined", researched and prescribed by a standards setting organization.
f) Another great example of such a "de facto" standard is the Microsoft Word document format, the so-called "doc file format."
Though everyone believes this to be an official standard, there is nothing further removed from a standard than this. The perception of the standard is created because "most" people utilize Microsoft Word, and in this respect they are able to seamlessly exchange and have their Word document interoperate. Though this is hardly the case in 100% of situations (talk to people still using old versions of Word or sitting on a non- updated Mac), the general perception is that there is a standard as anyone can send a document to anyone else in this format and most everyone (in the US) can indeed read it.
(You would be surprising yourself by visualizing what happens when Microsoft decides to update, upgrade or "improve" its flagship Word appliance. What happens then to your "standard" .doc file format? It evaporates in less than a second and many of those who could read your documents without a problem have now to upgrade to the new version or become instantly incompatible with you.)
Starts to make sense why standards are important and healthy?
In the cases of "de facto" standards, the word standard is only a pretence, often used to lock-in deeper and deeper the user into a specific brand and product set.
By understanding and looking with attention at the mechanics of this marketing strategy one can easily see that over time, the advantages that end-users may gain from the existence of any such proprietary standard is directly transferred to the very owner of those very standards, creating an unbalanced market where true service, focus on interoperability and future growth are not top priorities.
The priorities served are the ones of customer lock-in, market dominance and raising barriers to entry for others as high as possible.
In this light the option to use any type of standard is rapidly demoted in favour of proprietary solutions, requiring large mass market adoption to be of any use or advantage in the marketplace.
Just look around your software toolkit to see the living examples of this.
Is there enough variety there of brands and solutions as there is for cars, watches, sound systems, or telephone appliances?
b) De jure standardsare standards that are prescribed by a standards body.
De jure standards may be in widespread use (such as the metric system) or just a specification awaiting implementation or adoption, but de jure standards all share one common property: they are documented and vendor neutral.
"A "de jure" standard can be generally defined as a technical specification approved by a recognized standardization body for repeated or continuous application, with which compliance is not compulsory (GATT and EEC 83/189 directive definitions);"
"De jure standards are those ratified by recognised international standards bodies such as the ISO and IEEE.
Ethernet is an example of a de jure standard. De jure standards are generally given an identification number for precise reference. In the case of Ethernet this is 802.3."
"de jure" standards are in principle established with the cooperation and consensus of all interested parties;
"de jure" standards may be made compulsory by national regulations. Information procedures exist at the international level (European Union and WTO) to inform other countries of adopted and/or proposed standards;
"de jure" standards are public and intended to be used by anybody, whereas "de facto" standards are generally the property of one or a limited number of companies.
Source: AIPPI Reports
At a time when it mattered, there were three distinct DOS products on the market: MS-DOS from Microsoft, PC DOS from IBM, and DR DOS from Digital Research.
Although they were similar products with similar features, each had its own quirks which meant you could never be 100 per cent certain your software would run on them all.
De jure standards are needed to prevent this kind of problem. They set out (usually in minute and tedious detail) what the standard is for, its specifications and the compliance criteria. They are usually accompanied by some kind of test suite for determining compliance.
Source: DNJ Online - Setting New Standards - De fact vs De jure
De jure standards are also required to help prevent 'lock-in' - a term used to describe the way some IT suppliers use proprietary technologies to tie their customers to their products, making it extremely difficult for them to buy from rival suppliers.
From the point of view of many, de jure standards are just about the only way to ensure compatibility between different vendors products.
c) Open standardsare in between de facto and de jure standards taking an in-between approach which is very favourable for supporting, spreading and nurturing best practices in any industry.
An Open Standard is more than just a specification. Open standards are standards that are sufficiently documented to be implemented by and/or verified by a third-party.
Open standards can also be identified by the fact that they can be implemented freely, without the payment of any royalty for using the standard. Of course one may charge money for a specific implementation (if somebody's willing to pay), but a competitor cannot be taxed for developing its own implementation of the standard.
The principles behind the standard, and the practice of offering and operating the standard, are what make the standard Open.
Here are the key fundamental principles behind Open Standards and what this can mean to you:
Open Standards are available for all to read and implement.
b) Maximize End-User Choice
Open Standards create a fair, competitive market for implementations of the standard. They do not lock the customer in to a particular vendor or group.
c) No Royalty
Open Standards are free for all to implement, with no royalty or fee. Certification of compliance by the standards organization may have a fee. Thus: Patents embedded in standards must be licensed royalty-free, with non-discriminatory terms. Certification programs should include a low or zero cost self- certification, but may include higher-cost programs with enhanced branding.
d) No Discrimination
Open Standards and the organizations that administer them do not favor one implementer over another for any reason other than the technical standards compliance of a vendor's implementation. Certification organizations must provide a path for low and zero- cost implementations to be validated, but may also provide enhanced certification services.
e) Extension or Subset
Implementations of Open Standards may be extended, or offered in subset form. However, certification organizations may decline to certify subset implementations, and may place requirements upon extensions (see Predatory Practices).
f) Predatory Practices
Open Standards may employ license terms that protect against subversion of the standard by embrace-and- extend tactics. The licenses attached to the standard may require the publication of reference information for extensions, and a license for all others to create, distribute, and sell software that is compatible with the extensions. An Open Standard may not othewise prohibit extensions.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an example of a standards- setting body that has recently taken a position on patents to align their definition of a Web standard with this definition of an open standard.
Open standards have enjoyed considerable success in the marketplace.
"One of the best practices that enabled all of these standards to exist was the Open System Interconnection (OSI) model. This seven layer model created a standard reference for the exchange of data between different systems.
By separating the layers of the physical, datalink, network, transport, session, presentation, and application, (the best practice) and then letting markets focus on innovations at each of these separate layers, we saw a dramatic rise in both technical innovation and system compatibility that culminated in the Internet as we know it today.
Moreover, open standards such as TCP/IP and Ethernet have transcended their origins as network building blocks and become true open systems interconnect: TCP/IP is now used not only for LAN and WAN, but to connect storage systems (SAN) and even CPUs and memory (PAN). Ethernet has scaled from the 3Mbps implementation first demonstrated at Xerox PARC to 10Gbs, fast enough to build interconnect fabric for next-generation super computers.
Had the boundaries of the OSI been controlled by a single company as a de facto standard (which was status quo for networks at the time), the popularization of the Internet (and the value such a universal resource represents to society) might well remain a frustrated dream."
Source: Best Practices: Standards
What Can You Do Now About Standards?
How much of what you are using with your computer truly adheres to a standard allowing other companies, individuals, communities and researchers to interoperate and build upon it?
Very little indeed, especially if you are using a Windows PC.
Does your operating system support open standards or proprietary systems geared to achieve maximum lock-in with its users?
Do your office applications support open standards, or are you stuck with one vendor solution and at the mercy of that vendor will decide to do in the future?
Are the live collaboration and communication tools you use supporting interoperability standards or are they trying to get their chunk of the pie by proposing another separate and not interoperable solution?
Is your Skype SIP-compatible?
No matter if you are an independent writer, researcher, reporter, educator, trainer or computer artist. If your tools can't interoperate with the ones others may have, yor art and your pen may be worth nothing the moment your tool goes out of business.
Imagine painters painting canvases that could be seen only if you had special glasses sold only by a unique, great company.
Imagine videomakers creating footage that could not be transferred out of their system and that could be played back only with technology provided by the same vendor who made the videocamera.
In whichever area of interest you look, you will see that unless the tools and the means used in that field are greatly interoperable, the field will tend not to grow and innovate very rapidly, it will not facilitate the spur of new technologies or application ideas and will generally stifle any new competition that may have come into the market.
Great examples of stifled innovation are right in front of your eyes in the following application areas:
a) Word processing
In order to create some viable road utilizing the potential power of an existing standard, I would be tempted to be advocating a process by which some core "intersectional" technology assets are purchased by an NGO that resembles the ITU.
"Intersectional" is my neologism for "something that sits at the crossroads of many software products", something whose APIs need to be used by many players.
But if it could be properly put together, I would bet there would be millions of people on this earth who would subject themselves to a "voluntary tax" to acquire Java for a worldwide NGO, to be made available to any law-abiding developer.
The important thing is that Java would be perceived as a *public resource* and not as Sun's commercial product trying to masquerade itself as a standard.
(I know that Sun would not probably want to sell. I have a solution for that too, but that is altogether another story.)
Not only standards but the core implementing technologies ought to be owned by something resembling the public.
That is, core implementing technologies like Java is, need to be sufficiently "public" as to not be perceived as anybody's competitor.
It would also be refreshing for companies to universally accept a set of publicly elected body's standards, which can set out to define how best communication technologies can all interoperate and communicate.
So, what you can do today to help open standards evolve and be adopted by a larger number of users is to:
a) start asking yourself some questions about the benefits of going one way or the other while
b) gradually favour and adopt those tools that actually do support such open standards.
Here are some great examples which you can start to consider for adoption now:
Open Office in place of Microsoft Office
PHP - in place of ASP for development
XML - RSS - for information distribution
Linux - MacOS X in place of closed systems
Jabber - in place of YM, AIM, MSN, ICQ
SIP - in place of Skype and other proprietary VoIP solutions
Mozilla - in place of Microsoft Internet Explorer
Media Player Classic - in place of Windows Media Player or Real Media Player (it plays all formats and more)
JAlbum - in place of proprietary digital image management solutions
Wikis - for group-based collaboration content editing
Plone, Drupal, and other great open source CMS solutions in place of proprietary portan/content management systems http://www.masternewmedia.org/2003/06/11/effective_content_manag ement_comes_of_age.htm
MySQL in place of SQL, Oracle and other proprietary solutions
FOAF in place of many, many proprietary digital ID standards
A living open standard example: SIP
What pushes me to promote SIP is really just that this is finally a practical interoperable standard upon which to build effective real-time communication and collaboration tools that can enormously extend our capabilities to work and synergize together at a distance.
Standards historically benefit the public at large.
As mentioned above, examples may include TCP/IP itself, email, ethernet, Wi-Fi, and many others. They usually win on their own, as a result of their natural benefits.
However, there have been a few cases where a proprietary solution has become dominant.
In the online collaboration industry a major example of a proprietary solution becoming dominant is the world of instant messaging, where instead of interoperable standards, we have several corporate islands competing with each other, and a few companies in complete control (such as when AIM shuts down access from MSN, or some other competitor).
Skype, for the all of the good that it appears to have brought to many of you, represents also a similar threat to VoIP.
In the end, SIP has to thrive on its own merits and we will see shortly how it will score on this front.
I know I would prefer to gift my children a world in which VoIP was based on open-interoperable SIP, rather than one based on any closed proprietary Skype-like system, under the control of a single private corporation.
Compliance with SIP based protocols will play an important role in the future ubiquitous use of IP based video, voice, collaboration and conferencing solutions to a much higher degree that we can fully appreciate now.
Does SIP cost for us to have it?
With these services you then select the SIP-compliant hardware/software, just as you select your own 'Ethernet' or 'Wi-Fi' equipment.
If you want to use your PC for a phone, there are some free some softphones (e.g. Xten X-lite).
However, there are also a number of SIP-phones (starting around $75) and a number of devices that permit you to plug in a regular phone (e.g. a cordless-phone) to your network and use that with your SIP service (again starting around $75).
Many companies are introducing new SIP-compliant products every week, so the choice continues to grow. One company has announced an integrated SIP/Wi-Fi phone to be released next year: http://www.pulverinnovations.com/wisip.html.
Which tools do support SIP?
A growing number of softphones, server components like PBX (including a free Linux-based PBX called Asterisk), some home-gateway routers, a number of 'analog telephone adapters', and of course a number of hardphones. The following site lists some of the compatible items, but the list is growing quickly, so no list could be 100% complete: http://www.iptel.org/info/products/
Also a growing number of live collaboration tools are starting to embrace SIP as an important component of their development and marketing strategy. Among these:
Real-time conferencing WaveThree Session
Instant Messengers GAIM
PC Telephony Firefly
For a primer on SIP, see the SIP Wiki which has lists of free services and various SIP-compatible hardware/software products.
"It was never the object of patent laws to grant a monopoly for every trifling device, every shadow of a shade of an idea, which would naturally and spontaneously occur to any skilled mechanic or operator in the ordinary progress of manufactures.
Such an indiscriminate creation of exclusive privileges tends rather to obstruct than to stimulate invention.
It creates a class of speculative schemers who make it their business to watch the advancing wave of improvement, and gather its foam in the form of patented monopolies, which enable them to lay a heavy tax on the industry of the country, without contributing anything to the real advancement of the arts.
It embarrasses the honest pursuit of business with fears and apprehensions of unknown liability lawsuits and vexatious accounting for profits made in good faith."
Many thanks to:
To Wes Kussmaul for instigating how the future of core virtual infrastructures ought to be managed.
To Michal Jason and to Daniel Shefer for their uncesored views and opinions.
To Marc Canter for having reminded me of FOAF and having suggested to add it to this list.
Armor2net Personal Firewall software provides a complete spectrum of Internet security and Internet privacy for computers. The program protects the computer from hackers, data thieves, and other Internet-based dangers.
Armor2net Personal Firewall software provides a complete spectrum of Internet security and Internet privacy for computers. The program protects the computer from hackers, data thieves, and other Internet-based dangers.
Very interesting discussion indeed.
Would it not be possible for those companies that are implementing cutting-edge solutions to the needs of people to share common computer workspace and to interact by voice and video over the internet, to get together and start acting as a de-facto standard setting body, hashing out what would be the basic features of such services, rather than wait and see which one of the big players makes THEIR application successful and thus creates a fake standard a-la-microsoft word?
It might just make sense to do so.