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Why Open Standards are Good for Business, by Sean Lynch
Saturday, November 29 2003 @ 10:30 AM EST

There is an article on Newsfactor in which a SuSE executive points out that the Novelll-SuSE merger will be good for business, because they intend to create a stable standard that will make it easier to implement open-source applications:

"'We're just beginning the planning stages of integration with Novell right now, so there's not a whole lot of detail,' said SuSE vice president of corporate communications Joseph Eckert. 'But we do see the next arena as enabling the systems management -- enabling a greater access to those who use open-source applications by creating a standard to which all of that can be written,' he told NewsFactor. 'We believe that will enable an unlimited amount of flexibility in creating middleware solution stacks.' . . .

"As for SCO Group's allegations, Eckert pointed out that the Linux SCO uses is based on SuSE Linux, and that SCO and SuSE already have agreements in place about competing and partnering. He also sneered at the company's growing reputation for litigiousness. 'We're not planning to sue anybody, so I'm not seeing where the competition is,' he said. 'As far as I know, they're nothing more than a litigation company right now, not a software company.'"

The issue of standards is an important one. For a look at how Microsoft handles standards, here's an article in Internet Week, about MS submitting media technology back in September it hopes will become the standard instead of MPEG for video.

Here's why they would like to do this, and it isn't so all businesses can benefit:

"Microsoft Corp. said . . . it has submitted Windows Media Series 9 to a standards body, surprising industry analysts in a move that could help the software maker reverse its lackluster performance in the multimedia technology market.

"Microsoft submitted the video-compression code on which the product is built to the Society of Motion Picture Television Engineers. . . .

"Windows Media Series 9 was launched a year ago in Hollywood with much hoopla. But despite the endorsement of celebrities such as director James Cameron, the technology had done poorly against competitor MPEG2, a compression standard used as the underpinning of satellite, cable, video-editing systems and DVDs. . . .

"Under SMPTE rules, Microsoft will have to offer the technology under open-license terms, but will be allowed to collect royalties, which can be very lucrative. Consumer electronics companies, for example, pay license fees each time they use a compression technology.

"In addition, if Microsoft's technology became a de facto standard, than the Redmond, Wash., company would be in a good position to make money selling proprietary software on top of the standard, such as digital rights management, security and Windows infrastructure."

So there you are. Two ways of approaching an issue. A Groklaw reader, Sean Lynch, sent me an email, explaining the issue of standards. I thought the analogy he used made it so clear that I asked him to write it up into a short article, with links. Now that SuSE has raised the issue, it seems like a good time to share what Sean wrote on the subject of standards and why businesses benefit from open as opposed to proprietary standards.


Why Open Standards Are Good for Business
~ by Sean Lynch

It has been stated many times that the UNIX trademark is owned by The Open Group. The Open Group also controls the Single UNIX Specification and decides what is and is not UNIX. You can read their Guide to UNIX certification online and learn how your operating system can become a UNIX.

The reasons for standardization are numerous, but I like using car tires to point out why standards are important.

If you look on the sidewall of a car's tires you will see a series of numbers and letters. These will be something like 185/60 HR14 or 25/50 R16. These numbers stand for the width, height, internal radius, temperature rating, and so on.

These are standards agreed upon by all tire manufacturers. By using standard-size tires, buyers -- including auto makers -- can easily shop around and purchase tires from different vendors. This leads to competition and reduced prices.

If a major auto maker decided to use a proprietary standard, they would be locked in to one supplier of tires, and the car buyers would likewise have only one source of tires. This would lead to higher prices because tire manufacturers would be making many small batches of unique tires, increasing the cost of retooling.

If one tire maker achieved market dominance, they could hurt the auto industry by discontinuing a tire size, forcing the auto makers to retool the wheels on their cars. This market dominance would lead to lock-in for car makers and buyers.

By using standard size, interchangeable tires, consumers, manufacturers and investors all benefit. Open standards are generally good for business.

The UNIX standard attempts to do the same for operating system users. If you write software you can count on how an operating system will behave if it follows published standards. When I use a UNIX operating system function, I know what the input needs to be, what form the output will take, and what optional settings I can choose. This behavior is consistent across all UNIX operating systems. This leads to a certain level of commoditization in the operating system world. Also it is important to note that the code that implements the UNIX behavior can be different from one version of UNIX to another. The behavior is what matters; how you write code to achieve the standard behavior can be unique.

The Open Group on May 22nd, 2003 issued a press release that describes its position on the SCO Group's statements on their alleged UNIX "ownership". The Open Group owns the UNIX trademark, controls the single UNIX standard, and decides what is and is not UNIX. Their press release gives a good history of the UNIX trademark and contains this clear guidance: "Statements that SCO 'owns the UNIX operating system' or has 'licensed UNIX to XYZ', are clearly inaccurate and misleading." Note the helpful links at the end of the press release as well.

The entire UNIX specification is available online or it can be ordered on CD-ROM for about $60.00(US). The Single UNIX Specification is also published as a standard by several international standards bodies as IEEE Std 1003.1 and ISO/IEC 9945. Any individual or group could obtain a copy of the Single UNIX Specification and implement each and every portion of it by writing their own code. They could also use other people's code if they have permission to do so from the original copyright holder in the form of a license of some sort.

It is costly to get an operating system certified as UNIX standards compliant by the Open Group. Of course, it would also be costly in time and effort to write the code needed to implement the Single UNIX Specification. However, it is completely possible to create an operating system that can use the UNIX trademark without any involvement from The SCO Group.

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