posted by Marius Andreiana on Wed 3rd Dec 2003 03:47 UTC
IconThey say that "diversity is the key of survival and evolution in any domain. In software world though, variations are so big that they have started to prevent cooperation between software users and developers." Diversity is the key of survival and evolution in any domain. Because of variation, individuals from same species will react differently in the same environment, some surviving and becoming stronger, others disappearing. In software world though, variations are so big that they have started to prevent cooperation between software users and developers.

Note: Please note that the author is not a native English speaker, so please excuse any grammar mistakes.

Although diversity in functionality is welcomed, assuring innovation and evolution, applications should still have an uniform way of interacting with the user to offer rapid understanding from new comers. Unlike home user, which prefers a rich visual design, skins and new ways to interact with the applications, business users require a simple interface, clean, easy to use and similar to the other applications which are already known by employees. They don't have time to admire new designs and figure out how to use them, and want instead to fulfill their tasks as efficient as possible.

In order to help these users, open source application developers developed standards for graphical user interfaces (GUIs). The standard for desktop applications, supported by companies such as Sun Microsystems, Red Hat and Ximian Novell, is GNOME Human Interface Guidelines (HIG). This suggests methods for designing the GUI, like menu items positioning and behavior for user actions.

Although Linux "suffers" from a big variety of applications which fulfill similar requirements, these started to use the same GUI standard, assuring that any new user can take advantage rapidly of their functionality. The ones which don't follow GUI standards will be abandoned in corporate desktop environment, where Linux starts to gain market share.

The majority of software applications work with data saved in files. The diversity of file formats, many of them undocumented, make harder to exchange documents between users from different environments. Choosing an application depends now not only on it's advantages, but also on it's presence in the environments one will be interacting with.

As it's not beneficial and we can't stop the existence of more applications which have the same functionality, it's necessary to standardize the way these applications interact. Therefore, as the computer is used in new domains, standards emerge which facilitate the cooperation between users. We already know the standards which allowed adoption and explosive growth of Internet, specifying a common way of storing and exchanging information between different platforms: HTML and TCP/IP.

Besides the fact that these standards are open, meaning the data format and method of using them are public, the implementation doesn't require using patents and paying fees. The W3C organization, responsible for standards such as HTML and XML, proposed to allow standards which require patented technology for implementation. Fortunately, after critics from software industry, the proposal was refused and we'll continue to benefit from standards whose implementation will be free for anybody.

Information is becoming more diverse and new standards are needed to handle it, existing ones being insufficient. Today, software users don't change only simple text documents, but also complex ones, images, sounds, video.

The biggest advantage of Microsoft in Office market is the use of its formats to store documents. Besides these formats aren't documented, they change from version to version in order not only to force users upgrading to new versions, but also to make it harder for other applications to access Microsoft documents.

XML [Extensible Markup Language] is a markup language for documents which contain structured information. This information consists of content (words, images, etc.) and indications for the role of the content. Here is a sample XML document:

<addressbook>
	<person>
		<name>John Doe</name>
		<phone>555-343434</phone>
	</person>
</addressbook>

A document like this can be read by any application which knows the markup meaning, unlike a binary document, whose contents can be accessed correctly only if it's format it's also specified.

OpenOffice.org, a suite of Office applications similar to the one offered by Microsoft, uses a documented XML format to store files. This format was proposed as standard by an OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) committee, whose members include Sun Microsystems, Corel and Boeing. The committee will focus initially on standardization for document formats and then will continue with simplification of data exchange between any XML application and Office. This includes automation of business processes, web services, databases, search engines and other applications.

Table of contents
  1. "Cooperation by Standards, Page 1"
  2. "Cooperation by Standards, Page 2"
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