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Naturally Occurring Standards 295

An anonymous reader writes "The phrase 'de facto standard' can denote anything from proprietary tyranny to a healthy, vibrant, market. What makes a standard viable without the formal blessing of a standards organization? Should you use such informal standards, or ignore them?"
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Naturally Occurring Standards

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  • Tests (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:12PM (#12226889) Homepage Journal
    What makes a standard viable without the formal blessing of a standards organization?

    The tests would be: "Does that standard meet the needs of disparate groups of people who may be using a tool for different purposes within an organized framework? Is the standard accessible? Also critically important: "does that standard lock one into a narrowly defined structure that is difficult to extend or modify as needs change? Is the standard backwards/forwards compatible? To answer your final question, standards become formalized when they begin to meet these tests and are adopted by appropriate shareholders. This of course is aside from issues of criteria definition, or guidelines which often begin to take on lives of their own and bastardize "standards".

    • Re:Tests (Score:2, Insightful)

      by otisg ( 92803 )
      I saw a piece about Ben Franklin on TV the other night. Apparently, at one point Ben Franklin applied the same kind of thinking to taxes. When the tax law no longer made sense, the tax law had to be changed.
      Hm, this reminds me of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. That's not changing any time soon, is it?
      • Re:Tests (Score:3, Interesting)

        by stankulp ( 69949 )
        "Hm, this reminds me of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. That's not changing any time soon, is it?"

        Great Britain and Australia have seen their violent crime rates soar [] since revoking the right of ordinary citizens to own guns.

        Over 50 million people were murdered by their own governments during the 20th century, and the first thing these governments did to start their cleansing programs was outlaw guns for ordinary citizens [].

        So tell me exactly why the Second Amendment makes no sense?
      • Re:Tests (Score:3, Insightful)

        by johnnyb ( 4816 )
        You forget the point of the second amendment -- it is to keep for the citizens the power to overthrow their government should it become corrupt.

        In most totalitarian regimes, before they took away the rights, first they took away the guns. The purpose of the second amendment is to keep someone from doing that.
        • As a followup, for those of you who think that George Bush himself is a totalitarian dictator, don't you think you should be packing heat in case he decides to stay there for life? It seems reckless to say both "our leader is evil" and "let's let our leader be the only one with the guns".
        • THe second amendmend it useless in the face of modern firepower and intelligence. Go ask the palestenians how well those AK47s are working against the israeli tanks, helicopers, missiles, drones and bulldozers.

          If the second amendment is to have any effectiveness it has to allow bomb making equipment and materials, biological weapons, and chemical weapons. To think that you are going to hold off combined might of the the US military, FBI, the CIA and others with an m16 is delusion of the highest order.
        • Back when it was thought of, i can see it being relevant. The ability to overthrow a government was there and the ability for a government to easily become corrupt was there too. However in a modern society, i can't see a government becoming corrupt, or to be more accurate, corrupt to the extent where Americans will rise-up and attempt to overthrow them with their firearms.
    • Re:Tests (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Frater 219 ( 1455 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:53PM (#12227357) Journal
      I'm going to take that subject line in a completely different direction. The difference between an informal "standard" and a formal one is that conformance to a formal standard can be tested.

      Indeed, that's what the word "standard" meant of old. A standard is a pole, a stick -- such as a flagpole, hence the term "standard-bearer". However, more usefully, a standard is also a measuring-stick. (Another word for a well-sized stick is canon, which gives us the word canonical, meaning correct or orthodox, as well as cane, a walking-stick.) The purpose of a measuring-stick is to see if someone or something measures up -- if it is standards-compliant. Standards equals testing.

      A real IT standard spells out required behaviors of the implementation. In a standards-compliant C compiler, the function printf accepts certain formatting codes, and generates specified formatting therefrom. A C compiler which (say) inserts extra decimal places when formatting a floating-point number is not just wrong, but provably wrong. You can write a test suite based on the C99 standard that enumerates every possible printf formatting code, and tests that the implementation does the right thing.

      A standard can also spell out what is at fault in a failure. The DNS standards spell out the consequences of lame delegation. The SMTP email standards spell out responsibility for message delivery -- if your mail server accepts a message from a sending system, it is required to deliver it or transmit a bounce message. If you reject the message, it is up to the sending system to transmit the bounce. If the sender complains that their mail was not received and they got no bounce message, an inspection of the server logs can show which system is at fault by being out of compliance with the standard. Again, testing is of the essence here: one system is measuring up; the other is not.

      An informal "standard" is an invitation to arguments over what is "acceptable" behavior. A formal standard that spells out exactly what is to be sent over the wire (or recorded in the file, or accepted in source code) can still be a source of debate, but at least the participants can accept that there can be right and wrong answers.

      • Re:Tests (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mlyle ( 148697 )
        Standard n.
        A flag, banner, or ensign, especially:
        The ensign of a chief of state, nation, or city.

        A long, tapering flag bearing heraldic devices distinctive of a person or corporation.

        An emblem or flag of an army, raised on a pole to indicate the rallying point in battle.

        The colors of a mounted or motorized military unit.


        Indeed, that's what the word "standard" meant of old. A standard is a pole, a stick -- such as a flagpole, hence the term "standard-bearer".

        So you're saying a flagpole is call
  • Formally informal (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {}> on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:13PM (#12226901) Homepage Journal
    In my experience, things become an informal standard because either someone with a lot of influence says it should be (e.g. Microsoft) or the technology just makes a lot of sense and hits the market at the right time (e.g. Java).

    Just remember: Microsoft Office is an informal standard, as is Microsoft Windows. Of course, if you ask Microsoft, it's all "the industry standard".

    (Which reminds me of an amusing story. My company had a third party do a web video for us at one point. The third party then asked us what format we wanted it in. I replied "MPEG2" because it's the most portable and is a cross-platform standard. We then got back a WMV file with a note about Windows Media being "the industry standard". Apparently the only reason they asked was that they wanted to know if we wanted the file coded as VBR or not.)
    • by ed.han ( 444783 )
      i've always felt that de facto realities are more important than formal ones. after all, in a legal sense, a cop can't violate your miranda rights. however, no physical force you're likely to possess is gonna stop the cop from putting a beatdown on you if you honk him/her off.

      similarly: a lot of employers maintain codes of conduct, most of which include an "acceptable usage policy" (AUP). how useful and fun a site would slashdot be if everyone abided by the actual terms of the AUP?

    • by ergo98 ( 9391 )
      I replied "MPEG2" because it's the most portable and is a cross-platform standard

      I realize that it isn't core to your point, but...MPEG2 is the most portable and cross-platform for a web video? Maybe in DVD players, however it's one of the most license/patent encumbered standards out there, which is why you generally can't play MPEG2 on the desktop unless it's in DVD form and you have the appropriate software/hardware.
      • Re:Formally informal (Score:5, Interesting)

        by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @05:14PM (#12227591)
        There's a fair assumption here that they would re-encode it for their needs. For instance they may go with real, windows media, QT,etc but they wanted a quality source. Instead they got whatever codec at whatever bitrate that WMV file used. Very unprofessional for a video company.
        • There's a fair assumption here that they would re-encode it for their needs. For instance they may go with real, windows media, QT,etc but they wanted a quality source. Instead they got whatever codec at whatever bitrate that WMV file used. Very unprofessional for a video company.

          Encoding as MPEG2 would also have been very unprofessional, as it doesn't qualify as a "quality source". At the very least, the color resolution has been halved from the original source material.
    • Re:Formally informal (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tim C ( 15259 )
      Of course, if you ask Microsoft, it's all "the industry standard".

      Which it is - it's a standard that's used in the industry. That's de facto standard rather than official standard, of course, but standard nonetheless.
    • speaking of which.. is there a format for animated files? things with a few lines and not much else? On a project i'm working on uses a lot of low-color animated graphs. It seems really wasteful to encode as bitmap,(so we're generating the animations on-the-fly) but mpeg is definately not appropriate for such things: too many artifacts. Is there an "animated-postscript" format?
    • Which reminds me of an amusing story. My company had a third party do a web video for us at one point. The third party then asked us what format we wanted it in. I replied "MPEG2" because it's the most portable and is a cross-platform standard.

      Pity it won't play on most systems because you need a licensed decoder to be able to play MPEG2.
  • by winkydink ( 650484 ) * <> on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:15PM (#12226920) Homepage Journal
    If rich, the follow the informal standard. If right, ignore it.

    If you're very, very lucky, right & rich converge, but if its either/or I think my 1st 2 sentences sum it up.
  • Remember ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by foobsr ( 693224 ) * on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:16PM (#12226937) Homepage Journal
    ... our whole life is full of informal standards, to name three:


    P.S.: An excellent article!
    • Woah. I decided to check out your link, read the lyrics and what not. Then Winamp started playing little house I used to live in.
    • BRIAN:
      Look. You've got it all wrong. You don't need to follow me. You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves. You're all individuals!

      Yes, we're all individuals!

      You're all different!

      Yes, we are all different!

      I'm not.
  • Standard... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xtracto ( 837672 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:16PM (#12226939) Journal Something, such as a practice or a product, that is widely recognized or employed, especially because of its excellence.

    What makes [or should make] something standard is the wide acceptance from the population. And after all, that is a standard. As an example (trying not to flamebait) Microsoft could try to standaraize his .DOC format, but if people wont use it, it wont be a standard (it wont matter if it is an ISO-XXXX standard). Of course, now, .DOC is a kind of document standard.
  • Few use the ISO network protocol. -> not standard
    Microsoft Word *.doc is not open. -> not standard
    HTTP is open and common. -> true standard
    • BSOD -Ultimate standard
    • openness has nothign to do with standards, de facto or de jure. DVD CSS isn't open, but it's a standard. After all EVERY video DVD is encrypted with CSS.

      MS Word *.doc is a standard because 80% of the desktop market runs MS Word.

      Just becuase it's closed doesn't mean it's not a standard

      • Hard to classify HTTP as a standard. It's more of a protocol. Even html has 8 million different syntaxes. Some suits Netscape, some IE etc.

      • After all EVERY video DVD is encrypted with CSS.

        Nope, most mainstream titles are encrypted but the format does not require that content be encrypted and there are discs sold without encryption.
      • It doesn't exist on my machine, so to ME it's not standard.

        It WON'T exist on my machine. This is intentional. So if you intend to sell to me, you don't use it.

        A standard is the right way to do things, commonly accepted. It a proposed approach shuts out a large (not majority, but large...for some meaning of large) then that approach is not standard.

        So far two criteria: I won't consider anything as a standard if I can't or won't use it. (And I use pdf's, despite despising Adobe.)

        OK, pdfs are a standa
        • The Word .doc format is a de facto standard, in that it is commonly requested and accepted. People who write word processors or other document processor probably have to deal with it in some manner, even if to just dismiss or ignore.

          It is not, however, a de jure standard, in that it has not been approved by one of the commonly accepted standards bodies (eg., ISO).

          When you get down to it, the only standards that matter are the ones that that the targeted body accepts, either through formal or traditional m
      • After all EVERY video DVD is encrypted with CSS.

        That statement is categorically false. A DVD you create with dvdauthor is not encrypted. There are also studios that push out DVDs without CSS encryption.

        Do you perhaps mean:
        After all EVERY commercial DVD player can understand CSS.

        Even then there are several non-commercial DVD players (software-based ones of course) that come to mind; mplayer, xine, ogle. All of which can be compiled without libdvdcss and can play non-encrypted DVDs fine. So it is po
    • Microsoft Word *.doc is not open. -> not standard

      Ah, but Word is a de facto standard since that's what most people use for such docs and hold up as the standard.
  • by bonch ( 38532 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:18PM (#12226967)
    Man, when I was in college, we had 8 or 9 different "Industry Standards". While most teachers were absolutely convinced that their method was the "Industry Standard", there were a few knowledgable enough to explained the whole thing to us. Mostly when people talk about "Industry Standards", it's manager-speak for "The Way We Do Things Here." So if you don't follow the "Industry Standards", you will not be working for long.

    Also keep in mind that "Industry Standards" in the sense that I'm talking about has absolutely nothing to do with real ISO or QS standards. Those are actual organizations that create a set of standard rules for companies to follow, usually for the safety of workers and quality assurance of products. No, I'm just talking BS manager-speak...
    • I'm not sure if it was the rhetoric major or what, but my professors always made the distinction that some program or protocol was "an industry standard" rather than "the etc."

      It makes sense, really -- different people in the industry use different things. Quark, PageMaker, InDesign, LaTeX -- they're all industry standards because there are groups of people out in the industry using them. For all the complaints about Word being standard, well, RTF is an industry standard as well and is used by a great m

  • IMHO monopoly, patents, non-free available information about a specification is the dead to a public acceptable standard.
    Without the above the best of breed will prevail and become "de facto standard".

    Just a pity that when a company has the monopolicy on their market they only risk market share when using "good" standards, capitalism is good for starting up an economy however sometimes it is better to do some thing "socially" it's for the common good.
  • by otisg ( 92803 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:20PM (#12226981) Homepage Journal
    Good urban architects don't impose pavements on people. They let people walk freely and observe the walking routes and patterns. Then they put down the walk-way, and that becomes the standard place to walk. You follow it until you find something better, a shortcut. Then you build a new pavement there.

    Folksonomies[1] are hot these days, and they go against the rigid a priory classification that has been standard so far. That's another example of a shortcut. Because it's better (easier, faster, more natural, etc.) people are adopting it, and it's becoming a de facto standard. That's the new shortcut, and pavents are being built to facilitate this new route.

    [1] simpy [] (use demo/demo for a demo)
  • by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:20PM (#12226985)






    It's de facto when it requires no further explination.

  • Acceptance (Score:2, Interesting)

    by codesurfer ( 786910 )
    I've found that a 'standard' is often something that is found to be merely acceptable by the majority, not specifically desired or due to it's excellence. Standards are commonly just that...the minimal acceptable process/result.
  • by stlhawkeye ( 868951 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:21PM (#12226993) Homepage Journal
    I mean, when people violate conventions, I sometimes get annoyed. For example, creating stack variables in C whose names are in all-capital letters, when convention holds that macros look like that.

    Perhaps it's useful to discuss what the difference is between a de facto standard and a convention. If there is none, then I'd say conventions evolve through traditions established by whomever pioneered a given technology/idea, and those conventions can and do change over time (Liebniz notation in calculus comes to mind as a mediocre example) as better ideas come up. But usually over a long period of time.

    I mean, we had damn near purged the world of programmers who put their opening brace for a new code block on the same line as the conditional statement, and then that Gosling dude from Java went and set us back 20 years.

    • by m50d ( 797211 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:33PM (#12227138) Homepage Journal
      Why is it a problem? It saves space, increasing readability, and avoids this horrible bug:
      for(int i=0;i<10;i++);
      [loop body]
      • Why is it a problem? It saves space, increasing readability, and avoids this horrible bug: [Insert C code here]

        Or you could just use Python, which enforces readability and avoids the entire concept of silly bugs like that in the process.
      • for(int i=0;i<10;i++);

        Ironically, I just stumbled upon that one.


        Anyway C++ should issue warnings about semicolons following forloops. Now _THAT_ would be a very good standard! :)
      • by stlhawkeye ( 868951 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:49PM (#12227312) Homepage Journal
        I was kidding, mostly, just needling people who use that brace style.

        To answer your question, nothing is strictly wrong with it, it's a matter of preference. I can give you my reasons for disliking it but it's just garbage to justify an opinion I can't otherwise explain.

        1. The bracers are not vertically aligned in the same column, thus breaking my the ability to quickly, visually align blocks of related code on-screen. Note that plenty of people find your method more readable. I don't.
        2. Few people who code that way will put the start brace to a function in the same place; they tend to start a newline and put the brace on it. Usage tends to be inconsistant, making other people's code more difficult to read.
        3. When you start a new block of code without a conditional, where do you put the brace?
        4. If you want to test a block of code, you can easily comment-out the conditional if the brace has its own line. If you put it after the conditional, you have to comment that line out and add another brace, then delete it when you're done.
        But mostly I like it because that's how I learned to program and I find the shortcomings of the same-column brace style more tolerable than the shortcomings of the old style. I find on-screen space to be a negligable concern, I haven't coded on an 80x25 terminal since 1993, I personally find it less readable, and I've not committed or experienced that particular bug since my first semester of C. Moreover, that bug becomes easily self-apparant with any modern editor that supports good syntax highlighting.

        Those are my reasons, but I suspect that, as with most programmers, the real reason I dislike that style is that I didn't learn to code using it, and so it looks "funny" to me. Being a rational person, I've tried to justify my preference with logic, and I think I do a good job of it, but I'm willing to accept that it's just stubborn adherence to how I learned it.

        I also find the BSD style ("my way") to be far more common than the K&R-style, which means I more easily read more code that I run into "in the wild". K&R didn't even use their own style consistantly. As I mentioned, they failed to use that style on function definitions.

        I like the orthogonality of the braces lining up, it just looks clean and organized to me. However, in Perl, where I cannot omit braces for single-line code blocks after a conditional, I use K&R style for brevity, so I'm guilty of the very inconsistance that I claim to dislike!

        • Well, sometimes in C or C++ you also have one-liners in braces (e.g. one-line functions). I actually use the folowing rules:
          • Corresponding braces have to be either at the same line or at the same column. Unconditionally.
          • For braces at the same column, the line containing the opening brace doesn't contain anything else (except whitespace). Not even a comment. (This makes it easy to find out where to look for the corresponding closing brace: If there's anything else on the same line as the opening brace, the
      • It saves space

        Whitespace if your friend. If your code is too dense it actually becomes harder for the next guy to figure out. If you find yourself with massive code files that require you to make the code denser so that you don't get lost, then you need to check your design. Java encourages the use of large numbers of classes and packages for a reason.

        increasing readability

        When the braces line up, readability increases as the eye will naturally follow the brace down to its partner. Moving the brace on
      • You can code that stupid bug just as easily with the brace on the same line; just put the semicolon before the brace!

        Seriously, putting the brace on the same line may (or may not) save a line of space, but you can't visually check the braces. With the brace on a new line, the opening and closing brace match up neatly, and make the structure much, much clearer. And it removes a whole bunch of bugs when code isn't in the block you thought it was.

        And anyway, you don't need to waste a whole line. I'd wri

        • My problem with that is that it's much easier to add a line to the beginning when the brace isn't followed by code. In Vim for instance, if the brace is separate you can just move to the first line and press O. If the brace is on the first line, you need |xO{ (assuming you use tabs rather than spaces - if not the x would have to be r<space> ), which is not only more keypresses but also harder to formulate. In a point-and-type editor, you could click anywhere on the brace line and press enter rather th
    • If there is none, then I'd say conventions evolve through traditions established by whomever pioneered a given technology/idea, and those conventions can and do change over time (Liebniz notation in calculus comes to mind as a mediocre example) as better ideas come up. But usually over a long period of time.

      I think that the first uses are 'conventions'. There may be several conventions in use at one time by different groups, some more popular than others, but none of them are really 'standards' even if
    • we had damn near purged the world of programmers who put their opening brace for a new code block on the same line as the conditional statement

      Why the hell shouldn't that be done? (Unless you're referring to using Python []. :-) )

  • Should you use such informal standards, or ignore them?

    Like using a '?' to end a sentence?

  • You know a good Standard when you see one. Pretty hard to nail down, otherwise, because of the hugely varying contexts in which they're employed/evolved.

    That said, my sense is: it's a standard when its wide acceptance makes things easier/cheaper/more-reliable. Of course, standards have a bad habit, over time, of turning into Orthodoxy or other dogmatic-thinking-type problems. For example, people constantly give me trouble for using Furlongs Per Fortnight when expressing velocity.
  • by IronChefMorimoto ( 691038 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:23PM (#12227022)
    ...there's a naturally occurring standard at Slashdot that demands that at least one story like this gets posted a day.

    Meanwhile, my story submission about monkeys that play cards on the Internet gets rejected. F*ckers.

  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:23PM (#12227029) Journal
    If there's a standard around that does what you need to do, it's probably worth using it, at least if it's usable. There's a lot of application design these days that's too minor for a standards committee to bother with, and it's usually more important to get creative and interesting stuff out there than to talk people into thinking your work is going to be sufficiently creative and interesting that they should form a standards committee for stuff like yours.

    However, you should still do so openly - build interfaces that people can use, and document them so people can figure out how to use them, and if you're lucky, people will use them for things you've never thought of, so try not to prevent that.

  • Standards Orgs? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Unordained ( 262962 ) <> on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:23PM (#12227036)
    Just because it has a stamp of approval from a big-name standards organization doesn't at all mean it's viable, though if it's not, it probably does mean that it's already popular in some way and someone wanted a stamp of approval for the sake of having it.

    Like, say, HL7 for medical information exchange. The format sucks (we constantly find ways in which it can't handle the true cardinality of relations, because people assumed way too much) ... but we can't say "we don't support HL7 because we think it's stupid" without being laughed at. So you support it. And once you're done with that, you're too tired to go implement another spec that makes more sense, so you do what everyone else does: advertise that your software is HL7-compliant and therefore compatible with "every other major piece of software" in the medical industry (where "major" == "supports HL7", circular logic.)

    Sure. It's standard. And approved (ANSI.) And widely used. And it sucks. (And no, moving it to XML in v3 doesn't make it any better.)
    • Re:Standards Orgs? (Score:2, Informative)

      by rainmayun ( 842754 )
      There's a lot more to HL7 v3 than just changing the message format to XML. They've completely redefined the message development process, for one. Also the range of things you can express in a message is comparable with any decent ontological language, although that expression itself may be very complex. I'm curious to know exactly what relationship cardinalities you can't express.

      You can do XML with v2.x now, anyway.
  • by Flywheels of Fire ( 836557 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:25PM (#12227060) Homepage
    Analysis of the TFA:

    In practice, a word processor that can't read Microsoft® Word documents is an economic dead end. The formats used by the Microsoft Office applications have become a de facto standard, giving Microsoft a substantial competitive edge because each new release of its software can deliver for it a window of opportunity during which only its software is fully compatible; this is mitigated a bit, though, because incompatibility in a new version makes customers slow to upgrade to that newest version.

    Not true. Even Microsoft [] makes its products backward compatible. (One might say they make their products backwards, but that is another story).

    In some cases, a standard comes with some kind of licensing restrictions, or involves something that someone has a patent on. For instance, Unisys had a patent governing a bit of the algorithm used for GIF images. In general, patents are a huge weakness for a standard. The MP3 standard is used very widely by people who simply don't know -- or don't care -- that someone theoretically has a patent on part of it, and only some code using the patented algorithm actually has a license from the patent holder. Developers and users can be bitten by this many years after they make the design decision to use a patented algorithm, due to the nature of patents. De jure standards often require contributors to clearly disclose any known patents; de facto standards generally have no way to do this.

    Software patents [] are evil. Full stop. It has nothing to do with standards.

    Ironically, this article, published by IBM, fails to mention how once IBM itself used to be a de facto standard for PCs.

    • Not true. Even Microsoft makes its products backward compatible. (One might say they make their products backwards, but that is another story).


      I thought that was the author's point. It was saying that MS word is a standard, and if you write a word-type program that isn't compatable, you're screwed. When MS releases a new MS word, there is a short time when ONLY other MS products are compatable with it. So every time MS updates word everyone else has to go back and change stuff, giving MS an advant

  • Time! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Skiron ( 735617 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:28PM (#12227080) Homepage
    You only need to look at time 'standards', which stemmed from the railways in the UK (how can you run a 'timetable' if all parts of the country run their own time?' - as an aside, railway timetables are worthless now, as the punctuality of UK trains are soul destorying if you need to use them commuting).

    Then look at gun manufacture that introduced 'standards' to make parts that all fit no matter where that part was made.

    Now look at the software state. Companies deliberately adopting the 'standard' that every agree on to make it all work, then once in common usage, change it slightly (privately) to break the standard and have their own monopoly.
  • open interfaces (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vijayiyer ( 728590 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:32PM (#12227131)
    A standard is a good one when it has an open interface, regardless of whether it's 'official' or not. The relevant question is, "Can I interface with this 'standard'?" If the answer is "no", proper systems engineering becomes impossible, and everyone suffers.
  • This reminds me of the term "Best Practices". Usually I rather hate the term because typically stuff labeled as such receives little to no public scrutiny. I'm left wondering, how does one know they really are "the best", and who is the author to say they are "the best."

    In sciences like chemistry or physics, or other disciplines, knowledgeable people peer-review ideas before they get published, or widely at least. Those ideas are more measurable or provable, and seem to amount to more than a heap of wor
    • In sciences like chemistry or physics, or other disciplines, knowledgeable people peer-review ideas before they get published, or widely at least. Those ideas are more measurable or provable, and seem to amount to more than a heap of words without any mathematical basis. The same is mostly not true in computing.

      Wha? I don't think computer science journals are any less stringent in their peer review than those of any other discipline. I mean, unless you're talking about Wired magazine or something. But

  • De Facto Standards (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Philosinfinity ( 726949 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:36PM (#12227180)
    This article makes several interesting points, however I am stuck on their second example where they discuss "PC Compatible." In this example, they state that PCs share in design from the original IBM PC. As an example it shows how a new PC may have 4GB of memory, but it still uses the 640K of base memory. Then it makes a fairly strong claim. It claims that this became the defacto standard in part because it was better than the standards it replaced. However, this doesn't seem to be true, necessarily or otherwise. The IBM PC became the defacto standard out of popularity more than anything else. One needs to look no further than the battle between VHS and BetaMax. Sure, Beta had better video and audio quality. However, due to cost, simplicity, and marketing, VHS became the standard for magnetic video tapes.
    • Well, actually IMHO the PC became the de-facto standard because two things acted together:
      1. IBM was the market leader in computers (you didn't get fired for buying IBM)
      2. Every company could build PC clones without any royalties to IBM (thus making the PC clones relatively cheap)

      I'm almost sure that if it were not for the clones, the PC would not be where it is today.
      • Yeah, that is exactly what I was getting at. Specifically, from the article:

        First, though, to dispel a few myths: Not all de facto standards are the same. Some of them are really good. Some are really bad. Not every de facto standard represents the best possible technical decisions; not every de facto standard represents the tyranny of a proprietary despot dribbling out just enough crumbs of documentation to keep the peasants from revolting. De facto standards can be temporary kluges, or carefully consider

    • It wasn't cost, simplicity or marketing.

      VHS became the standard because you could record a full movie onto it. You could only record an hour on Beta. (yes, there are full movies on Beta but how long was it before the "six hour" VHS record mode was available?)

      Guess what people wanted?

      Same reason cel phones have all but completely replaced pagers overnight.
  • better question... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by briancnorton ( 586947 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:43PM (#12227245) Homepage
    What makes a standard viable without the formal blessing of a standards organization?

    Here's a better question. What makes a blessed standard viable? A standard is only as good as it's market penetration, and defacto is the only standard that makes a lick of difference. Don't buy it? Go ahead, write your site in SVG, your competitors will use flash and make money while people scratch their heads when they read "plugin needed" on your page.

  • by ksvh ( 875006 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:43PM (#12227246)
    The English language itself is an example of a naturally occurring communications standard. Although it is an informal standard, I do not recommend ignoring this one.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:45PM (#12227263)
    The great thing about standards is there are so many of them to choose from.
  • by mlmitton ( 610008 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:53PM (#12227358)
    It may be worth noting that in the U.S., car drivers were driving on the right side of the road well before the government required they do so.

    But then again, there was no private organization that benefitted from which side of the road people used. If Ford made money from the left side, and GM from the the right, then we can well imagine there would be a battle for which side of the road we drove on, and which side would probably vary from location to location. ("Hey New York, I'll give you a million bucks if you require people to drive on the left!")

    Take away the private interests, and people will naturally organize themselves to one format or another. And, in most cases, consumers will be better off for it. The only reason they may be worse off is if people rally around an inferior standard, but that's probably more likely to happen with private interests.

    Moving on to my opinion....the answer isn't to have the government force one standard or another on us. The answer is to have the government force the private interests to allow us to choose a standard with a minimum of baggage that comes with it. e.g., Don't force everyone to use .DOC, simply make it so that if you choose to use .DOC, you can use it with Word, OpenOffice, or whatever.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Take away the private interests, and people will naturally organize themselves to one format or another

      This is a very big assertion; you might want to back it up. As for your statement about Ford and GM not being able to change people's mind, keep in mind that the US "drove on the right" long before cars were even invented. These conventions occured during colonial times with horses as well, long before the automobile was invented.

      On a side note, there are two people that we have to thank for the fact

  • by rewinn ( 647614 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @04:58PM (#12227416) Homepage

    Literally or figuratively, a "standard" is a flag that the troops rally around as we head into battle.

    If we're lucky, we rally 'round because the standard inspires us and represents something we love.

    If we're unlucky, we rally 'round because the Commissars are standing behind us with sidearms ... literally or figuratively.

  • by TodPunk ( 843271 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @05:06PM (#12227501) Homepage

    This really is something that everyone in this community should be taking to heart. This is why Linux has had difficulty breaking into heavy usage, why hundreds of projects (including open source software projects) have failed, and why we haven't moved to better architectures in the computing world.

    In practice, a word processor that can't read Microsoft® Word documents is an economic dead end.
    I think that's probably one of the most important statements in the article. If every reader who plans on writing any code, coming up with a piece of hardware, or decides to rethink Support conventions were to take the heart of that message and put it into their plans, we'd really start making headway in the real world with real innovation.

    In summary: Your idea may be good, but that doesn't mean squat in the market. What DOES matter is: How much of a headache is your solution to X going to give me versus what I already have? Yet I STILL get asked by my co-worker why we aren't using Linux for our desktop PCs...

  • A good standard is one that most software is 80 to 99.9 percent compliant with, has few exceptions, and is not heavily weighted towards a specific vendor.

    A bad standard is one that most software is less than 80 percent compliant with, has a significant number of exceptions that you can misinterpret many different ways, and/or is heavily weighted towards one or more specific vendors.

    If the standards committee spends more than 80 percent of their time arguing over minutiae that 99 percent of the software us
  • from Webster []

    Main Entry: 1de facto

    Pronunciation: di-'fak-(")tO, dA-, dE-
    Function: adverb
    Etymology: Medieval Latin, literally, from the fact
    : in reality : ACTUALLY

    So, a de facto standard is one everyone is already using.

    I have no idea how you set out to become the de facto standard other than getting everyone to use it.
  • I work in an environment where standards are important. However there are many opportunities where standards are outright ignored. Usually what happens is that someone (or a small group) develops an idea in advance of the standards, we've all been there. But as the 'standardization' process works its way up from local to national committees two things happen. First in the formalization process the standard becomes 'over generalized' so that the gods of intellectual pork may be appeased (each in their own mi
  • by UrgleHoth ( 50415 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @05:42PM (#12227852) Homepage
    On OSNews []

    Copied verbatim. Nice. What do we call dupes from other sites without credit? Oh, yeah, plagiarism []
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @05:46PM (#12227885) Journal
    So til dey pubLish a off,ishul standad deesyded bai cummiti 4 inglish mai ritin wil luk laik dis
  • by N3Bruce ( 154308 ) < minus author> on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @06:07PM (#12228125) Journal
    To paraphrase the old joke, the Solid Rocket Boosters on the Space Shuttle are limited to the diameter they are because of the finite diameter of the rail tunnels between the Morton-Thiokol plant in Nevada and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

    The railcars which carry the SRB segments are all on carriages which have trucks with the wheels exactly 55 inches apart, which is known as Standard Gauge in railroad lingo.

    Why was this figure chosen?

    Early railcars derived their design from mining cars which rode on rails inside mines before the locomotive was invented. For convenience, the railroads adopted their standard gauge very close to this common pre-railroad standard.

    Why were the carts made with this width between the wheels?

    The early mining carts were adapted from cargo wagons which travelled on the old Roman roads in Europe, which had developed deep ruts over the centuries. The distance between the wheels was selected so the wheels rode in the center of these ruts to avoid breaking an axle frequently?

    Why did the Roman roads have their ruts at this distance from each other?

    The distance between the center of the ruts on the old Roman roads was a function of the distance between the wheels of the old Roman Charriots.

    Why did the Romans select the wheel spacing they did?

    The old Roman charriots were designed so that a pair of horses could pull them. The track had to be wide enough to accomodate the hind quarters of two horses.

    So there you have it, the design of the Space Shuttle is constrained by a couple of horses' asses!
    • Re:Standard Gauge (Score:2, Informative)

      by raxxy ( 566672 )
      Actually, Standard Guage is 4 feet, 8 and one half inches. The Roman chariot story is a myth.
  • The US government, and most developed nations, have standards for quality and safety for nearly every product on the market. These are simply there to protect the consumers from lies, withholding of facts, and simple ignorance. The history of consumer protection in the US has been that when some nasty problem happens, the industry is extremely slow to adopt any changes because they cost money. The government many times must step in. Quality is sometimes cost effective, and safety is almost never cost ef
  • A "standard" exists so that independently developed entities can work together. Nuts and bolts, network protocols, whatever. Standards succeed when people really need interoperability, and the standard provides this in a convenient manner. X400 (ISO email) didn't succeed because SMTP was sufficient and was more convenient. X500 (ISO directory) didn't succeed because people didn't need it badly enough to spend the money on implementation. LDAP (dumbed-down X500 over TCP/IP) was more successful because i
  • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 ) on Wednesday April 13, 2005 @07:04PM (#12228614) Homepage
    A de facto standard is the standard by default - nothing else exists, or can compete in terms of market share. This is different from a natural standard which exists naturally - not as a default, but as the result of a healthy ecosystem.

    A natural standard, in practice, is no different than an "open standard": they both serve the same purpose and have the same end result. Take the SMB protocol for instance (at least for the most part).
  • by garyebickford ( 222422 ) <> on Thursday April 14, 2005 @04:18AM (#12231503)
    Perhaps the oldest de facto standard still in use is the track width for US railroads (and some, but not all non-US). IIRC it's 4'8", which is: a) not really wide enough; and b) certainly not a nice round number like, for example, five feet.

    The history is interesting, and demonstrates the power of an established de facto standard. (I don't recall the source for this, but I think it was a PBS TV show.) When the very first railroad cars were built, they were built by wagon makers, who used the same jigs and fixtures they used for wagons. Wagons had a de facto standard track width of four feet eight inches.

    This track width dates back to Roman times. Roman chariots had this track width, because it worked correctly for the horses that they used. So for roughly 2000 years, wagons were generally made that size.

    As railroads began to expand, they used a variety of gauges up to seven or eight feet. (The famed Orient Express had a seven foot gauge, IIRC.) Some early railroads used different gauges as a competitive measure, to prevent competitors from running trains on their track and requiring customers to change trains, often several times within a short trip.

    Abraham Lincoln was President when the first transcontinental railroad was to be built, which would require that the different companies involved would have to use the same gauge. He actively questioned the "odd" 4'8" gauge, and after some discussion, signed a Presidential edict that all railroads henceforth must have a gauge of five feet. The railroads proceeded to totally ignore this law, and built everything in 4'8" gauge, thus demonstrating the power of de facto standards. So today, we (mostly don't) ride in railroad cars whose dimensions are descended directly from the width of a Roman horse's behind.

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.