Why are open standards important for end-users?

Ben Finney bignose+hates-spam at benfinney.id.au
Fri Feb 29 21:35:14 UTC 2008

"gk at fsfe.org" <gk at fsfe.org> writes:

> During preparation for the DFD I am currently searching for reasons
> why open standards are important for end-users.

One analogy that I often find helpful is that of the kitchen appliance.

Consider, goes the argument, what happens when something goes wrong
with one's toaster. If you feel confident enough to open it up, any
toolbox will contain the correct tools: a phillips-head or flat-head
screwdriver. These are standards, open ones that anyone can implement
without restriction.

If one is less confident, or if the problem turns out to be not worth
fixing, one can simply go to any store and buy a *different* toaster.
Buying a different toaster doesn't require throwing out all one's
bread and buying bread from the toaster manufacturer's store; it
doesn't mean changing one's electricity supplier because the toaster
requires different electricity.

No-one would accept the imposition of bread that works only with
specific toasters, or electricity that works only with one
manufacturer's toaster, so we unconsciously expect that *any* bread
maker or electricity supplier will provide bread and electricity that
works with any toaster we can buy off the shelf. They are standards,
open ones that can be implemented without restriction.

Yet in the field of software, somehow we have allowed corporations to
sell us exactly this situation: the documents many people use can
*only* be used properly with tools from one particular manufacturer,
and attempting to switch to tools from a different manufacturer leads
to great pain as we convert or discard all our existing documents.
Those documents are not in an open, freely-implementable standard
format, so the people bear the cost of that lock-in.

By demanding open standards in our documents and data formats, we
prevent that lock-in and ensure that a free market can supply tools
from different manufacturers that we can reasonably expect to work
with those open document formats in future.

 \      "Progress might have been all right once, but it's gone on too |
  `\                                             long."  -- Ogden Nash |
_o__)                                                                  |
Ben Finney

More information about the Discussion mailing list