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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 3 of 3)

De Facto Standards

This brings me to the third type of standard that is often seen in the computer world: the de facto standard. “De facto” is Latin for “in fact”, so a de facto standard is one that is used as a universal standard just because over time it became widely used, and not because the standard was developed and approved by a standards committee. A good example of a de facto standard is the “AT” command set used by modems; virtually all modems use it, but this resulted not from an industry group agreeing to adopt and deploy it. Rather, it was developed unilaterally by Hayes, the pioneering modem company, and then adopted by virtually every other modem maker until it became a standard.

One reason why proprietary standards are still sometimes seen is that some companies want to produce a standard that will become so universally used that it becomes the de facto standard, thus giving them a leadership position in that market. Again, in my estimation Sony falls into this category—they often want to do things “their way” and create proprietary standards that they try to promote using their powerful market presence.

Sometimes this succeeds but often it does not, resulting a fragmented market of incompatible products. An excellent example is when Sony created a new format for digital camera flash memory (the “memory stick”) rather than using the CompactFlash format used by other camera manufacturers. The result of this was not everyone using memory sticks as Sony had hoped, but two incompatible standards that increase confusion and yield no real benefit to the customer.

Key Concept: Networking standards can be classified as proprietary, open or de facto. Proprietary standards are owned by one particular organization. If that organization has sufficient market clout and the industry lacks alternatives to its standard, it may be adopted by the whole industry, becoming a de facto standard. Usually, however, differing proprietary standards compete with each other, resulting in a fragmented market. In contrast, open standards are not owned by anyone—they are created by neutral organizations to ensure that compatible products can be designed and developed by many different companies. This makes life easier for the customer as well as promoting the market as a whole.



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