Standards 101

After almost 15 years in the software business and 10+ at Microsoft I have worked on numerous projects where industry standards have been part of things. When I was an infrastructure systems engineer in the field doing network design and working on NT, SMS, Proxy Server…etc. there were few customer engagements and/or product training sessions where standards were not part of the discussion. Then, with Y2K I was in a front row seat for an issue that desperately needed an open standard (namely the definition of Y2K compliance). After that, a brief stint in our security response center and then onto a bit of work with OSS issues.

Throughout all of this I have been aware that standards were present, and had to discuss the relationship between OSS and open standards on more than one occasion but have NEVER appreciated how deep this rabbit hole goes. Last week I blogged about my possibly being drssed up as a space-age princess with baked goods adorning my head (a decision I am now regretting given the internal emails and fun people are having at my expense). And now, it would seem I’m about to insinuate my likeness to a small British girl in taffeta and pig tails. hmmm. Things are heading in a distirbing direction.

But I have never been shy, nor fearful of ridicule. So with that, I think I will blog my journey down the open standards rabbit hole. I’ve officially been in my job about 2 weeks (went public with it only recently) and have been forced to step back and rethink a number of core assumptions about standards in general. Even more so, about Microsoft and open standards.

One of the things I have been struck by the most has been the depth to which Microsoft is engaging in the open standards process. Groups all over the company are involved either in standards setting or implementation projects. There are hundreds of standards bodies with countless working groups engaged on a myriad of issues. Of course, some get more attention than others (Office file formats lately). Yet I frequently hear that MS doesn’t do open standards. That is clearly not true given just a few discussions with folks in MS who are super dedicated to the success of open standards. This raises and important question then – what is it that we are not doing well about standards?

This blog entry is a “hello world” of sorts. Open standards represent an incredibly complex mix of factors. Tell me if there are things I should be paying attention to – I’m interested to know where we can improve in this arena.

Comments (4)

  1. Matt Asay says:

    So, now that you’re the Standards Guy, does this mean you’ll actually post to your blog more than annually? 😉


  2. Eduardo says:

    The problem is that what Microsoft means by the term "standards" is often quite different from what others mean. That being the case, the first step would be for you to explain what you mean by the term, and compare it with other definitions.

    Along those lines, it would be very helpful if you compared your definition with Massachusetts’.

  3. Nektar says:

    There are two issues with MS’s aproach that give the appearance that MS does not like (enjoy) working with standards:

    1. MS does not explain properly and in depth its decisions concerning standards. This has led to strong criticisms when MS had implemented its own protocols instead of using standard ones already implemented. By standard ones I mean technologies that were already widely used and not only those that were accepted by an international body. For example, many universities (almost all universities) use Java and they blame Microsoft for creating a non-standard implementation of Java in the first place and then for developing .NET, seemingly a clone of Java. Others blame MS for developing COM and not using the standards-based corba. They do not even teach COM and talk only about "the standardized technologies"ie. corba, rcp, etc. Not all of the academic community but you get the idea, the evil talk can now begin. The same goes for the recent Office XML standardization. Why has MS seemingly responded (or perhaps it had) to the Open Document Format by producing its own incompatible "standard". Do you think that this will go down well Again MS has failed to properly explain its reasons and do that in time, before the criticisms. For example, why should MS be apparently last in standards efford and not lead the way. Why eg. standardized Office XML last and not first before Open Document Format. These mistakes are the basis for much of the criticism. In addition, it seems that whatever the industry does MS will do something else. Why can’t there be agreement. Sun and Oracle and IBM, etc, colaborate and MS says no I will implement my own protocol. Not always but just one example is enough to set up critics. What about the recent Jabber vs. SIP-based protocols in the im market. Why can’t MS and the rest agree. Google plays this game of standards beautifully. "We will use an open im protocol called Jabber and there will be choice of client, choice of im service, choice of platform". Appearances do matter.

    2. My last point brings me to my second important point. Choice of platform, although not important to the majority, is important for the critics and as a matter of principle. MS has made two serious mistakes in this respect: Your "open" licenses are always criticised that they are incompatible with the GPL and whether this is true or not is besides the point: the fact is that you have not clarified this enough. Can other developers of GPL apps write Office XML parsers or not? Official clarifications are not present. Can Mono legally implement .NET on Linux? And what about the famous battle of Windows Media have you clarified whether the WM encoders and decoders can be used by Linux vendors legally? No. People have to figure it out. Not only that but whilst on one hand you put up your WMV video codecs for standardization, on the other hand you provide no implementations of Windows Media Player, etc, for Linux and you provide no easy answers to the question if a Linux vendor can implent WMV itself. Fear of MS if everywhere. And you have not helped to aleviate that fear since you provide no other implementations of your technology except on Windows and you do not even seem to colaborate with other companies.

    So, in summary, you are vague in in licensing concerning open source platforms, you do not explain your decissions which makes it appear that you always follow and you never lead the way, you do not work in order to innovate it seems but only to satisfy customer pressure after the fact and implent a much demanded standard, you do not clarify your position on the GPL (Samnba, mono, etc) and you always seem to be working on you own whilst the rest of the industry in united in an alliance (eg. the Liberty Alliance). Purceptions should change by: A) Educating your customers with clear policy indicators and clear instructions (don’t led them guess. They will always guess the evil part.) and B) Make more moves in the space of interoperability as the Bill Gates memo of 2005 beginning had indicated, which will have a true effect (Windows Media, Networking, Office XML parsers for other platforms, etc). Why should all non-Windows software be provied by others. This is clearly wrong as it encourages critics and reduces interoperability making the software stack into a two-world system: either all Windows or all Unix.

  4. Christian says:

    Sometimes its not what you’re doing, but how you’re marketing yourself. Aside from yourself and other individual employees talking about it in their blogs, why not highlight the blogs of those employees who are dedicated to the effort? I am sure they are out there – they need to raise their voices.