posted by David Howe on Thu 29th Apr 2004 05:27 UTC
IconIn a local office somewhere near you, someone wants to send someone else a electronic document. Once there was a fairly broad agreement about the way such documents were prepared and delivered, before the advent of the computers and the Internet.

Today there is also a fairly universal agreement about how such tasks are carried out, central to achieving this fairly common task is the ubiquitous Microsoft Word. With a form of Windows on virtually every corporate desktop, the pervasiveness of Word documents in business is understandable. MS Word and .doc may appear to be a standard way of doing business but are they a standard?

The wholesale adoption by large corporations and government of .doc as a standard form of electronic documentation is profoundly wrong, it is largely responsible for the single largest amassed fortune in recent history and has unfortunately also created a defacto standard that undermines a fundamental process in the world of business and government, the process of standardization.

What do we mean by standards anyway? Why bother? How do they fit into the computing picture?

Standards are relatively commonplace and provide important functions in the world of commerce and industry. Ranging from common standards for measurements to complex standards for business accounting, they help to define benchmarks by which things or processes can be measured.

Ok I hear you say, we have standards for how food might be prepared and how much is a gallon of fuel or what voltage comes out of your wall outlet, but how do we apply standards to the evolving world of computing? A number of organizations are charged with just that task. Bodies such as W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) who develop a range of specifications and guidelines for technologies that power the Internet. In the wider world, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) which publishes over 14,000 standards, has recognized the importance of what they term "E-business". They are currently publishing a memorandum of understanding that begins like this:

"E-business is becoming a cornerstone of the world economy ...
Full benefits for consumers, industry and government demand a coherent set of Information and Communication Technology standards which are:
1. open
2. interoperable
3. internationally accepted".
This memorandum of understanding has the support of other standards organizations like IEC and ITU.

What helps to define such organizations and provide them with their authority is the need in business, industry and government for STANDARDS. These bodies and others like them have a variety of members with their own viewpoints, who are unified in their desire to provide a common platform for their own benefit which also benefits the general public. Have a look at the membership of the W3C and you get the idea. There is a very diverse range of interests represented by the membership of W3C.

So standards are a good thing. But back to the discussion about MS Word.

If you search through the Library of Congress subject catalog you will find a couple of references to some current "standards" in computer software that are interesting. Aside from the references to such things as Base Computer Standards, version 2.0. which was published in 1995, there are books about "Microsoft .NET framework - 2001" and "Java data objects - 2002". Books about software standards are likely to be quickly dated however the library's catalog items seem to point to the area of software environments.

A quick Google search for something like "Desktop Computer Standards" results in a list that seem to indicate that the "standard" Desktop Computer is a PC running some form of Windows! Similarly, results from a search for computer software standards turns up a surprising number of references to Microsoft and Windows and Word and .NET. This simple search also highlights the common perception that because something comes pre-installed on a PC then that software is the standard. This is often aided and abetted by advertising which proclaims that your new computer comes "standard" with the latest version of Windows and Office.

Table of contents
  1. "Software Standards, Page 1/2"
  2. "Software Standards, Page 2/2"
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