Is standardization deemed to be against FS and how can it be tackled?

Paul Boddie paul at
Mon Jun 15 17:10:38 UTC 2015

On Saturday 13. June 2015 12.08.39 Scott Wilson wrote:
> (The only thing I’d like to note is that its important not to confuse
> software freedom for users with financial costs for developers. Its easy
> to get exercised by having to pay €50 for a standards document, but if
> that standard can be implemented without encumbrance, and the
> implementation freely shared, modified and distributed by users then it
> better supports FOSS principles than a standard that is free to download,
> read and implement, but which incurs licensing costs or usage restrictions
> on users.)

What about whether the documentation can be shared freely? The case that comes 
to my mind is that of the SQL specification which, during the period I was 
most interested in it, could only be found online as some kind of ISO draft 
presumably leaked by Digital (if I remember correctly). It's pretty tough to 
work towards and to claim compliance with a specification if everyone has to 
obtain their own copy (by post from ISO) and then nod to each other in vague 
agreement. As we have seen elsewhere with things like Unix, if it means that 
everyone agrees on their own open standard or even on the behaviour of Free 
Software implementations, routing around the unavailability or impracticality 
of formal standards documentation, then this will happen instead.

Now, there was a time when standards organisations could probably justify 
being a gateway to documentation, having to provide editing staff and the 
logistics to manage the preparation of the document (Brooks' "The Mythical Man 
Month" goes into detail on the kind of thing that went on inside IBM, new and 
sizeable paper copies of manuals being prepared every week, and so on), but 
just as the academic publishers have been exposed as mere middle-men, with the 
real work being done by everybody else, so should traditional standards 
organisations in domains where they may not be adding any value be regarded 
with similar disdain.

Indeed, the emergence of alternative venues for standards, the lack of 
interest in getting technologies ISO-standardised, particularly with regard to 
Internet interoperability (remember ISO HTML?) where a more liberal culture of 
standard-setting has always existed, and the reputation-damaging Microsoft 
OOXML exercise have all contributed to a justifiable decline in the perceived 
relevance of ISO and the like.

It's also worth mentioning the role of vested interests in standards. Even 
with liberally-managed standards like Internet RFCs or in venues like the W3C, 
one can see in the texts of standards documents hints of the formalisation or 
legitimisation of existing product behaviour. Proprietary software vendors are 
rather experienced at "front-running" standards so that their competitors or 
future implementations have to catch up with legacy implementations.


P.S. I hope someone is distilling this discussion into a concise summary for 
convenient future reference.

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