ISO, W3C, OOXML/ODF: How do tech standards impact you?
July 30, 2009 12:17 AM   Subscribe

What's your stake in international tech standards and OOXML?(I'm working up a thesis and I could use some input from the computer literate world)

Ok, so I'm getting set to do my masters thesis in Public Administration, and I've decided to write about the wonderful world of international standardization-- mostly ICT(read: tech) standards (eg. HTML5, CSS3, domain naming/registering rules via ICANN, OOXML, ODF, PDF, anything from IEC ISO IEEE JTC1, etc.)

One area that I am exploring is output legitimacy in the standardization process. I have a pretty good theory, but I need some ideas about where to investigate for evidence...

This is where you come in. If you feel inclined, shout out about any of the following:
Why are standards important(to you)?

How have ICT standards impacted you/your job?

Are there International standards you have resisted implementing at your job or on a project? why?

Any first-hand accounts of political manipulation of the standards development process.

What's your take on the OOXML/ODF controversy? How will it impact you/your work? What long-term effects do you think the controversy will be?

Much thanks all,
Tom
posted by trcook to Technology (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Why are standards important(to you)? How have ICT standards impacted you/your job?

Standardization of connectors on motherboards enables competition between (for example) Intel, ATI and nVidia on price/performance; and between RAM manufacturers on price.

Standardization of the PDF format means I can get tools and software at substantially lower cost than Adobe's tools.

Standardization of USB and USB devices means I can plug a mouse, keyboard, memory stick, portable hard drive, or digital camera into pretty much any computer and have it work immediately and correctly; USB devices such as printers and usb-serial adapters need drivers, but subject to that usually work pretty easily.

On the other hand in the area of computer video, there are a great many 'standards' and pieces of software, some of which are 'extensible' or 'container formats', some of them patented or with license fees - it can be a gigantic pain in the ass and there's pretty much no software out there that properly implements all the 'standards', and no file/data format out there that works everywhere.

Of course, that's partly a technology issue. If we'd established a universal computer video standard 10 years ago no-one would be using it nowerdays because it would be obsolete.

Are there International standards you have resisted implementing at your job or on a project? why?

1. Costs/benefits of implementing insufficient (In particular for big/complex standards). I once needed to import some simple line graphics; I considered the SVG standard, but it's a very complicated standard and all I wanted was a line linking a bunch of x,y points.

2. Standards that aren't very good, or aren't sufficient for a given application. For example, NMEA-0183 for interfacing with consumer GPS receivers sends position information including height, ground speed, and ground angle - but no vertical speed.

3. Standards where there's a better standard available. For example, RTCM 3.0 improves on RTCM 2.3 in several ways which make it better and easier to implement.

What's your take on the OOXML/ODF controversy? How will it impact you/your work? What long-term effects do you think the controversy will be?

I'm not all that concerned about open source politics. What matters to me is "Will the recipients of this file be able to open it?", "Do I have the tools and ability to produce this type of document", and "Will I be able to open this document later without my data, styling, and whatnot being lost?"

For me this means PDF for recipients who don't need to edit the document, and .doc/.xls for myself and recipients who do need to edit it.
posted by Mike1024 at 2:36 AM on July 30, 2009


Why are standards important(to you)?

I'm a programmer. I deal with standards every minute of every day. My languages are defined by standards; my file formats are defined by standards; my representation of numbers is defined by standards.

Ask a plumber why pipes are important to him.

How have ICT standards impacted you/your job?

They reduce my workload considerably. If something's stored in a standard file format, chances are I can find a library that already reads it. If I output data in a standard format, I can tell my clients to use off-the-shelf tools to do the parts I don't want to develop.

Are there International standards you have resisted implementing at your job or on a project? why?

Sure. Mainly because they suck.

Mike1024's example of the NMEA GPS standard is perfect. And it goes way beyond not giving vertical speed. The problems with it go far beyond lack of vertical velocity.

A couple of totally broken standards from the Java world: 1) The J2ME Java Media Framework allows you to reimplement all sorts of components, except for the Player. The result is that adding new codecs is impossible, as are unexpected transport techniques. (Oh, and the implementations are invariably broken. But, that's a compliance issue, not a standards issue.)

2) The J2SE Java Rules Engine API is so completely and utterly useless. They modeled themselves on the database api. But while all the SQL databases do the same things and have roughly the same features, none of the business rules engines have even remotely overlapping functionality or features. The standard, which meant to make the engines interchangeable, just adds another layer of work for both the user and the engine implementor.

Any first-hand accounts of political manipulation of the standards development process.

I bet you mean governmental political manipulation. I have no idea how frequent that is.

But, I promise you that every standard is tainted by the stink of corporate politics if it comes from an industry consortium. You can see how things make it into the standard, despite having been developed at some particular company.

OpenGL is an excellent example of this. It was built by SGI, and so all of its functionality matched 1:1 with SGI hardware capabilities. Then SGI dropped back, and it's pushed by nVidia. It's interesting to note that a feature will make its way from NV_ ("nvidia-specific extension") status to just EXT_ ("extension") status considerably quicker than things go from ATI_ to EXT_.

What's your take on the OOXML/ODF controversy? How will it impact you/your work? What long-term effects do you think the controversy will be?

Who cares? It's text, and both are wrong. WYSIWYG editors are a plague.

Editable text should be unicode plain text. If you want markup, mark it up and render it in a browser of the like. If you want typesetting, mark it up in TeX and render a DVI or PDF.

Spreadsheets should be in CSV. With some sort of simple extension for adding equations.

Powerpoint should be made illegal.

Oh, I mean... Microsoft is controlling the standards process and the blahblahblah.

Of course, the real problem with most standards is that somebody with a public administration or political science or business administration degree, and no engineering degree, got involved in the process. I mean no disrespect, but the long and short of your thesis should be, "We're unqualified to have an opinion. Let's leave that to the engineers."
posted by Netzapper at 4:16 AM on July 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


What long-term effects do you think the controversy will be?

I don't know about long-term effects, but I worry about long-term OOXML. MSFT's OOXML is slightly more than a memory dump with angle brackets. People in 100 years will curse us for letting it get the standards-body stamp of approval.
posted by cmiller at 9:59 AM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


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