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Why Open Standards Matter 158

Tina Gasperson over at Newsforge (Also owned by VA Software) has an interesting writeup about her experience at the Government Day sub-conference at LinuxWorld Boston. Government Day addressed some interesting issues including some of the more tangible reasons behind supporting open standards. From the article: "Speaking to the audience of government workers, Villa said, 'Maybe 2006 is not the year that Linux ends up on your desktops.' But, he encouraged them, if they begin using software that supports open standards now, such as Firefox and, then when Linux is ready it will be that much easier to make a switch. 'And maybe you'll decide not to make that switch,' Villa said. 'But at least the choice will be yours.'"
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Why Open Standards Matter

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 10, 2006 @06:28AM (#15098101)
    Although open source software is technically free, many companies sell a distribution version of an open source operating system or application for a fee. The distribution combines the free source code along with proprietary development utilities and a technical support package. For example, the Linux operating system, the most widely known open source project, is available from several vendors for a fee.

    Although most all operating environments have open source projects, open source is particularly common in the Unix/Linux/Java world; for example, the Apache Web server, sendmail mail server and JBoss application server. The Netscape Web browser was also turned into open source in 1998 and later released as the Mozilla browser for Windows, Linux and Mac (see Mozilla).

    Peer Review

    Open source developers claim that a broad group of programmers produces a more useful and more bug-free product. The primary reason is that more people are constantly reviewing the code. This "peer review," where another programmer examines the code of the original programmer, is a natural byproduct of open source. Peer review is an important safeguard against poorly written code.

    Vendors of proprietary software counter by saying that "too many cooks spoil the broth!" They say that having complete control over software ultimately results in better products.

  • by bloobloo ( 957543 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @06:29AM (#15098106) Homepage
    If you want to describe the importance to a non-techie audience, the best idea is to use the simile of describing closed formats like betamax. Although it had its advantages there are problems getting the information back out. Yet "open standards" such as cine film can still be viewed or transcribed more easily. The closest people can usually get to understanding in terms of computer programs are the problems in moving from Access 98 to 2000.
  • author mistaken? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phreakv6 ( 760152 ) <> on Monday April 10, 2006 @06:36AM (#15098116) Homepage
    Has the author mistaken Open standards to Open source ?
    We use Open standards very much in our everyday life dont
    HTML, TCP/IP, GSM, PCI , XMPP ( jabber, google talk ).. etc. etc.
  • by Anonymous MadCoe ( 613739 ) <> on Monday April 10, 2006 @06:45AM (#15098140) Homepage
    I once had a standards seminar where soemone made the interresing remark that open standards only matter to companies that are behind in marketshare. Once a company is dominant they want closed standards.

    Of course "open source" can hardly be defined as a company.
  • Starts with DRM (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Neo-Rio-101 ( 700494 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @06:50AM (#15098150)
    People are only going to awake to open standards when they realise that the digital movie or tune that they bought suddenly doesn't work anymore because the format is old, closed, and the company went bankrupt. I.e., people will only care about open standards when they run into lovely DRM more often in their daily lives.

    Now, from a business point of view.... open standards is actually much harder for IT outsourcing companies to handle. Most of the employees of such companies (who are cheap) are low skill, MCSE people, and even if they aren't, they couldn't write a PERL script to save their hides. Problems start when IT head management wants to try and get these people to help troubleshoot hardware issues with FreeBSD, hack the Linux kernel, and develop and deploy untested beta software for critical systems all at MCSE skills and prices.

    Not only is it hard to find people to be Open Source nuts and support open standards, but they cost more. This is where Microsoft wins out with PHBs, because at they pick cheap and fast out of the (Cheap/Fast/Quality) trinity... then they end up accepting locked standards.
  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @06:50AM (#15098151) Homepage Journal
    We use Open standards very much in our everyday life dont we?

    Word, ppt, excel, smb, quicken, asf, wmv

  • by babbling ( 952366 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:05AM (#15098176)
    DOC, iTunes, SWF, MOV, etc, etc.
  • by Fanboy Troy ( 957025 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:12AM (#15098189)
    HTML, TCP/IP, GSM, PCI , XMPP ( jabber, google talk ).. etc. etc.

    We use Open standards very much in our everyday life dont we?

    Word, ppt, excel, smb, quicken, asf, wmv

    Even more interesting: compare which of the above said standards actually fostered growth in technology and paved new ways of doing business:

    The first set brought everyone the web, the internet, mobile phones, a plethora of choices for expansion cards, etc... all going down price-wise. Alot of opportunities of doing business also.

    The second ones, well... made us have to pick certain platforms/vendors to be relevant... I don't know about everyone else, but over here the price of windows or Office is not going down! Magic food indeed.
  • by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:15AM (#15098193)
    "If you want to describe the importance to a non-techie audience, the best idea is to use the simile of describing closed formats like betamax. Although it had its advantages there are problems getting the information back out. Yet "open standards" such as cine film can still be viewed or transcribed more easily"

    Your heart is in the right place, but this doesn't strike me as a great example just on the grounds that somebody (like me..) would go "huh? Betamax works on all betamax players!" A better example would be one that most people would have dealt with at one time or another. "Have you ever tried to get your check-engine diagnosed outside of your dealer?" Or: "Have you ever tried to use your old cell phone with your new provider?" Okay, admittedly I haven't hit the PERFECT example, but in those cases anybody who has answered yes to those questions would have a lightbulb appear over their heads.

    Anyway, this isn't a rebuttal, just a suggestion of a better example. I was a little lost the first time I read your post.
  • by bloobloo ( 957543 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:25AM (#15098212) Homepage
    Interestingly, neither of those examples would hold up to scrutiny in the EU. Car manufacturers can't tie you to their main dealers even for their warranty periods as it is restraint of trade. A lot of engine diagnostic systems have been developed through reverse-engineering for interoperability which is legal. Likewise, mobile phones can be used on any network as long as they're unlocked (you may have to pay about £5 for the service) and they haven't been reported stolen.
  • by Anonymous MadCoe ( 613739 ) <> on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:42AM (#15098249) Homepage
    I think there is something to say for both points of view. In some ways the "free labour" sounds tempting, on the other hand having a closed shop with "your own" developers can be much more predictable (mark the can be != is ;-) ). And in that way it is harder to profit from your investment.

    And of course there are branches (like where I'm in) where things are mostly secret and the actual cost of internal development is lower than the cost of leaking information (which could just be a way of doing things).

    I think in the end it mostly depends on the type of business you're in.

  • by Fanboy Troy ( 957025 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:47AM (#15098263)
    wmv is open standard . Microsoft has submitted it to standards body inorder to get it as one of the codecs in Blue Ray disc standard, and HD-Disc standard.

    It is A standard. Not an open one with the full meaning of the word open. Can I make a GPL application that will legally play wmv files? Can I make a closed source freeware application that can play wmv files without paying a royality to microsoft? I would happily admit I am wrong if you provide me links to the opposite...
  • False dichotomy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bloobloo ( 957543 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:52AM (#15098271) Homepage
    You're looking at it only from the perspective of the developers of the standards. I'd be surprised if anyone could show me how an end user benefits from closed standards.
  • by ajs318 ( 655362 ) <sd_resp2.earthshod@co@uk> on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:57AM (#15098275)
    XML is not necessarily open. After all, it's extensible, and extensions can be proprietary. Microsoft could have a container like
    ..... loads of weirdy characters .....
    and as long as their schema mentioned <SecretProprietaryExtension> as a valid container, then it would be valid XML. If they really wanted to arse it up for their competitors, they could describe the document entirely within the secret proprietary extension; but put in some valid-looking markup that would actually create a less-than-perfect rendering In Real Life.

    Microsoft's entire business model revolves around making new versions of Office that are incompatible with previous versions, giving a few copies away for free, and thereby forcing everyone else to upgrade in order to read the files their friends have sent them. Really, it's just a form of built-in obsolescence ..... unlike hardware, you can't make software fail after a certain amount of use.
  • by PenguinBoyDave ( 806137 ) <(david) (at) (> on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:59AM (#15098284)
    Every Linux World for the past three years has talked about this. From CA's CEO last year in Boston, to ODSL, Red Hat, SuSE, MySQL, etc. etc., the message is the same every year. Open Standards good, proprietary bad.

    The problem is that we sit here and beat our drums, but someone comes along and says "when Linux is ready..."

    Last I heard there were many organizations (Government, etc.) already using Linux on the desktop. I'm sure they will tell you it is ready.
  • Re:Starts with DRM (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @08:02AM (#15098295)
    people would be forced to either give up their library of songs from iTunes, or upgrade from WinXP to OSX rather than Vista.

    You seem to be forgetting option C), namely "or not upgrade their OS at all".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 10, 2006 @08:04AM (#15098306)
    I have been a big supporter of open standards in the government for years and have encouraged the adoption of them in several areas. The data is the people's data and should not be held hostage to closed, proprietary formats, especially if some of the data is to be made available to the general public at some point.

    What the government needs are laws or mandates for open formats whenever possible for government and government contractor created documents for several reasons including the need for retention, ownership by the people of the country, and access by its citizens. It's the people's data and should not be restricted by a closed format or incure cost by the people to access their own material.


  • In short.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mOOzilla ( 962027 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @08:09AM (#15098315)
    What good is a system if it cannot talk to other systems (programs services etc).
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @08:14AM (#15098325) Journal
    It is worth pointing out that this is true of the producers of the software, not of the users. Users always benefit from open standards because it provides them with a second source. If your supplier is forced to compete, then this is obviously beneficial to you.
  • by jyda ( 114207 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @08:24AM (#15098343) Homepage
    I'd argue that that example does more to illustrate the importance of standards, generally, rather than open standards. But if it's getting the point through, why not?
  • Re:Starts with DRM (Score:4, Insightful)

    by VGPowerlord ( 621254 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @08:37AM (#15098387)
    Since there is a good chance the current version of iTunes won't work on the final version of Vista, people would be forced to either give up their library of songs from iTunes, or upgrade from WinXP to OSX rather than Vista.

    I can run Windows programs all the way down to ones made for Windows 3.1 on XP. Microsoft puts a lot of stock into backwards compatibility. Perhaps you should rethink that statement?

  • by jocknerd ( 29758 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @08:41AM (#15098400)
    This leads to a reason why we need a new definition of what open standards mean. AAC is an open standard, because it was agreed upon by a committee and its specs were submitted. But its not free. A license for the encoder will set you back about $15K. Not open by my definition. To me, an open standard should be free of patents and licensing fees in addition to having documented specs.
  • by heinousjay ( 683506 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @09:15AM (#15098504) Journal
    Your intentions are good, but the execution is off base. Zealotry doesn't attract mainstream followers, only rabid believers. All the rabid believers already believe, in the case of the 'Open' software world. This means your approach is valid if you want to preach to the choir, but in the rest of the world it's the equivalent of standing on the street corner screaming about the end times.

    I wish I could suggest a better approach, but the thing is, it's really just a technical issue. It has social ramifications, but mainly for technical folks. There's very little reason for mainstream users to care. All that can be done is some vague handwaving about rights and freedoms that typical users are in no position to exercise.

    Possibly the best route to take is cost, but for most people the cost of software isn't really that onerous. A few hundred dollars a year isn't terribly out of line for the provided benefit.
  • by FuzzyBad-Mofo ( 184327 ) * <fuzzybad&gmail,com> on Monday April 10, 2006 @09:34AM (#15098561)

    Could the author explain why Linux isn't ready for office use? In my opinion it's been "ready" for several years, and only getting better. (And no snarky comments about lack of games, that doesn't apply to an office environment)

  • by Eskarel ( 565631 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @12:50PM (#15099530)
    I always see these arguments, and I always see people missing the point. I like open source, I like open standards, but I also live in the real world and can see things from the perspective of the business I work for.

    Open Office is improving all the time, some of the components(I only really use word processing) are almost as good as the Microsoft equivilants. The document format is standard and can be replicated by any application which wants to do so.

    However, it hasn't been, you can't just open an Open Office document, you have to install Open or Star Office, or possibly some other freeware application. Most specifically you can't open an Open Office document in Microsoft Office, which, no matter how much you dislike it, is the defacto industry standard.

    If you send someone a word document, they will have something which can open it, and if they do any document editing at all, they'll be able to work with it and change it. If you send them an OpenOffice document, odds are they won't be able to open it. The purpose of these sorts of files is to store and transfer data, if the person I'm sending that document to can't open it, then it doesn't matter whether the file is open or closed, because it has no practical purpose.

    You can argue about the value of open standards till you're blue in the face, but if everyone can't open it without substantial effort(downloading a 100 meg file is substantial effort), if they can't edit it without substantial effort, then it doesn't have any value at all.

    You could design a language which was perfect, which had no exceptions to rules, which allowed for no ambiguity or misunderstanding, which was, in every way you can measure such a thing, perfect, but if no one speaks it it doesn't make any difference at all.

  • by FLEB ( 312391 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @12:52PM (#15099543) Homepage Journal
    The photos you took of your children growing up won't be viewable on modern equipment.
    JPEG? (Okay, I'll admit that I ought to convert the NEFs for storage one of these days.)

    None of the recordings of the band you played in when you were younger will be listenable.
    CDDA? MP3?

    Business letters written just a few years ago won't be readable.
    Okay, I'll give you DOC.

    Open standards (or at least easily-licensed enough standards to be on a par with open) are nearly ubiquitous, and widely supported for both reading and writing. With the fact that these formats are open and digital (allowing lossless medium-to-medium copy), anyone who puts forth even a minimal effort to, say, drop all the CD-ROM backups onto whatever nails shut CD-ROM's coffin, there's no reason why most of today's content can't live on far into the future.

    Aside from the .DOC format, an anomoly, and formats for new and growing technologies, like digital video, things are only getting better in regard to open standardization. I predict that once Internet video has been around for a few years, it will also develop "Lowest-common-denominator" standards just like its predecessors.

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