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Table Of Contents  The TCP/IP Guide
 9  Networking Fundamentals
      9  Network Standards and Standards Organizations

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Proprietary, Open and De Facto Standards
(Page 2 of 3)

Open Standards

Eventually, companies learned that they would be better off to have standards that everyone agreed with, instead of constantly fighting with each other. This is particularly true of networking, where devices need to talk to each other. If many companies get together and agree to cooperate, they can create an open standard instead of a bunch of proprietary ones. The name is rather self-explanatory; rather than being the closely-guarded secret of one organization, and open standard is available to any who are interested in using it.

One key to the success of an open standard is a steering organization to promote it. Usually, a neutral, non-profit trade association or working group is established to develop and promote the standard, and the various for-profit hardware and software companies join this group and support it financially. These groups also work with standards approval bodies like the ITU and ISO to gain acceptance for their standards.

Of course, the companies aren't doing this just to be nice to their customers. In creating open standards, they split the “market share pie” between them, but they make the pie grow much larger by attracting more customers. Customers like open standards more than proprietary ones, because they give them more choices, and increase their ability to interact with other companies, troubleshoot problems, hire skilled workers, and expand in the future. As for the companies, they still compete in their specific offerings, so it's not like they all end up making the same products. For all of these reasons, open standards are now far more common than proprietary ones.

However, the process involved in creating these standards is often a difficult one. In some cases the standards organization will draft the standard from the ground up, but in others it may select one technology as the basis for the standard from several that are submitted in what is commonly called a “technology bake-off”. Thus, many different companies may come to the table with different approaches, each of them vying for selection as the standard for use by the group. Politics can cause groups to get bogged down for years fighting over various options, or even to split into multiple groups. Good examples are what occurred in the conflict between supporters of 100VG-AnyLAN and Fast Ethernet, and the problems with standards politics that have plagued the world of powerline networking.

Furthermore, there are still some companies that believe strongly in proprietary standards, because they really want to control and direct the market. One of the most famous/infamous in this regard is Sony, a company that makes excellent hardware but frequently refuses to accept established standards. For this reason, some people avoid their products, even though they are good; because they want to stick to industry standards.


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