Standards_past

"Hello, my name is Grace Hopper," stated the uniformed woman towering over his bed.

"Huh," Scrooge opened his eyes, to a strange aberration; a navy admiral, carrying what appeared to be a foot of copper wire in one hand, and a copy of the COBOL standard in the other. He took a quick glance at the glowing red numbers on the clock next to his bed, "31:73" it read.

"Marley Standard Time", said Grace, "It's different, but not innovative. I got into standards to make innovation possible. Can you imagine constantly programming machines in gibberish, byte by byte? Thirty five years of COBOL, and it's the most prevalent computer language existent. It even works on both your laptop, and the cheap imitations that this hotel tries to pass off as innovation, but Marley will never admit that."

"Old standards are history," rebutted Scrooge, "as I might add are you.! Who wants or needs the old stuff." Grabbing his laptop, he shook it at her, "you don't get things like this made out of wood, or even concrete and steel."

"Have you tried to plug it in here?", asked Grace, pointing to the pairs of wires that ran between ceramic spools on the ceiling, with wires twisted on, dropping down to the few appliances in the room. "Marley decided to stick with Edison original wiring here, it's DC, 82 volts or so, actually it wanders quite a bit. Without a standard interface and electrical quality spec, your laptop, and the electronics' industry would not exist. You seem to be unaware of this basic fact. Standards create markets, much larger markets than you can ever get without them."

"Old stuff still, your talking electronics, not computers; maybe communications stuff, like that damn J-11 plug in the wall to get to the phone system; but not real computers," Scrooge stood up to deliver his devastating blow. "Real entrepreneurs don't need standards; take a look a web browsers, all innovation, ..." he suddenly found there was no air left in his lungs.

"Marley isn't playing fair," said Grace, as she opened a window that had not been there a moment ago. "Even airbags, need air. Lets see about the truth of your assertion. Browsers, written in the C language I suspect (any language that starts with "c" can't be all bad), and portable between systems because C, and a number of common library routines (many from the POSIX standard) are prevalent on all UNIX systems, and even Macs and PC's. Using the world wide web, lets see, that's HTML from the web consortium, and HTTP from the Internet Engineering Society; and while we are on the IETF, we can go down RFC by RFC on all the underlying standards that are implicit in getting the Internet interoperable in the first place. Then we can talk connections, try to make this stuff work across the street, much less around the world without some definition for the telephone system. As MaBell used to say, 'when we've got them on the call, their hearts and minds will follow.'"

"But, all of that is without these stogy old formal standards bodies. Even the POSIX stuff you mention has been displaced by the Open Group's X/Open specifications."

"Half true," responded Grace, "You're just a bit young to remember when the language committees were the hot kids on the block, racing ahead of the stogy old systems before them, setting new records for standards delivery. If industry had any memory of why they created the formal bodies in the first place, they might realize they just keep re-inventing them, not improving them. You think ToG or IETF are faster than anything else, lets think this through. What makes IETF work?"

"Rough consensus and working code," responded Scrooge.

"Hm, I've heard that one before. Whose consensus, whose code, on what specification?"

"That's obvious, the folks submitting the specs are, for the most part, actively writing the code, and when these experts can agree, to some degree you have a rough consensus based on real world experience," Scrooge beamed with pride.

"That's so, you left out one key factor. Not only are the core of the Internet standards drivers folks that are writing code, they are also customers," (While she was talking, Grace's image waived, looking distinctly like a bald man who was re-growing hair while promoting some thing on TV with an 800 number at the bottom of the screen, but the image faded back into Grace.) "When you can get the user to do the implementation and write the standard you have the best of all possible worlds; everyone who cares not just in the same room, but in the same person. There's no standardization process that wouldn't benefit from getting clear input and communication from those three perspectives. I think some of the folks now days call it 'eating your own dog food', if you don't use your product, it's not surprising that it is useless."

"Ok, but what about X/Open; they delivered UNIX specifications fairly efficiently."

"You get what you pay for!" responded Grace, "I think that's what you told that last customer who wanted to buy the standard conforming, commodity model instead of your innovation of the week product. If you put a bunch of monkeys in a room with typewriters, how long will it take before you get an ISO standard? But, if I have paid computing professionals, full time, with computer terminals, and executives from a dozen large vendors pouring money on them, you get more definitive results."

At this point Scrooge's mind wandered to his worthless nephew, who always insisted that his next business endeavor would be a monumental success, but he just needed a bit more cash. Scrooge wasn't sure why.

"Give me a place to stand, a few million dollars, a few vendors who really need a common flag to rally around, and a technical writer, and I can produce standards with amazing speed." Grace pulled an array of documents from up her sleeve, documents with titles like "88 Open", "PCI", "ACE", "VESA", and so forth. Some of these are even useful and relevant, others are just marketing shells, but how can we tell the difference?"

"We can form an organization to authorize the real work, help everybody know what is just hype, from the stuff that warrants real investment," responded Scrooge, "At the same time we can make sure that a few simple guidelines are established, like any interested person can participate, no closed operations."

"How about, up front guidelines about patents? Permitting them, but only when the are available on a non-discriminatory basis for a reasonable fee.? And maybe define 'rough consensus' a bit, so it can be measured objectively, with some assurance that everyone has been heard," responded Grace.

"Great! Keep it low overhead, non-dictatorial, low cost, share the staff between diverse areas so they don't have to get worried about completing this project, and not having a job. We might even get the government to recognize this as a place where they can turn when they need industry initiative, and keep them out of our hair."

"Congratulations, you just invented the American National Standards Institute,.... again," responded Grace, with a shy smile .... soon the smile was all that was left in the room, except for a slight sea-salt air.

Scrooge, wasn't sure if he were dreaming, or awake.Standards Present

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