Proprietary, Open and De Facto Standards
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Why are standards important? Well, because I said so. They are. Alright, fine, I'll try to do a bit better than that; even my young kids won't take that for an answer any more. But I have to warn you that the proper answer is a lot longer than the cute answer. J
An old saw in the computer world says that the beauty of standards is that there are so many to choose from. This little joke reflects the frustration that technicians often feel at the sheer number of standards that are found in the industry: thousands. Aside from differing in terms of contentwhat technologies and protocols they describestandards also often differ in terms of the type of standards they are, and how they came about. In fact, part of the reason why there are sometimes so many to choose from in a particular area is because of how they come about.
In the early days of computing, many people didn't quite understand just how important universal standards were. Most companies were run by skilled inventors, who came up with great ideas for new technologies and weren't particularly interested in sharing them. It wasn't considered a smart business move to share information about new inventions with other companiesthe competition! Oh sure, every company believed that standards were important, but they thought it was even more important that they be the ones to control those standards.
I'll give you an example of what I mean. Lets imagine that it's 1985, and I have just come up with a great networking technology, which I have incorporated into a fancy new local area networking product called SooperDooperNet. (Catchy, eh?) SooperDooperNet is my product. I have patents on the technology, I control its design and manufacture, and I sure as heck don't tell anyone else how it worksif I did, they would copy me, right?
Now, I could sell interface cards, cables and accessories for SooperDooperNet, and a company that wanted to use it could install the cards in all of their PCs and be assured that they would be able to talk to each other. This solves the interoperability problem for this company by creating a SooperDooperNet standard. This would be an example of a proprietary standardit's owned by one company or person.
The problem with proprietary standards is that other companies are excluded from the standard development process, and therefore have little incentive to cooperate with the standard owner. In fact, just the opposite: they have a strong motivation to develop a competing proprietary standard, even if it doesn't improve on the existing one.
So when my competition sees what I am doing, he is not going to also create network interface cards that can work with SooperDooperNet, which would require paying me a royalty. Instead, he's going to develop a new line of networking hardware called MegaAwesomeNet, which is very similar to SooperDooperNet in operation but uses different connectors and cable and logic. He too will try to sell bunches of cards and cablesto my customers, if possible!
You can see what the problem is here: the market ends up with different companies using different products that can't interoperate. If you install SooperDooperNet, you have to come to me for any upgrades or changesyou have no choices. Worse, what happens if Acme Manufacturing, which has 50 PCs running SooperDooperNet, merges with Emca Manufacturing, which has 40 PCs running MegaAwesomeNet? Well, the IT people have a problem, that's what. Sure, there would be ways to solve it, but wouldn't everyone be better off to just avoid these difficulties in the first place? And how could you create something like the Internet if everyone's networks used different standards?
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Version 3.0 - Version Date: September 20, 2005
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