Craig Burton

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ISM: The Role of Standards

Common Lexicon Part 2: The Role of Standards

This is part 2 of a foundation building discussion for a lexicon to discuss the Internet Services Model and the future of Internet infrastructure. Part 1 discussed the distinction of Accessibility vs. Ownership.

The Burtonian Technology Matrix

Figure three: Craig Burton Technology Matrix

Notice that in the Craig Burton Technology Matrix, there is no label or axis for “standard.” The reason for this is that the distinction of “standard” is distinct from ownership and accessibility. A “standard” as defined in this document can theoretically exist anywhere on the matrix. As we will see, because of the distinctions of ownership and accessibility, parts of a single standard may actually exist in different quadrants of the matrix. Among other things, this phenomenon makes it critical to keep the distinction of a standard separate from the distinctions of ownership and accessibility.

There are three types of standards to consider in the Internet Services Model:

  1. De facto standards
  2. De jure standards
  3. De rigueur standards

De Facto Standards
A de facto technology standard is usually established by market share. When a particular owner of a technology has a large enough market share, it is said to be a de facto standard. Windows is a de facto standard. Both the Netscape and Microsoft Web browsers are de facto standards.

While some that would argue that a browser should be a de jure standard, the fact is, there is no de jure specification for a browser. A standards committee defines specific parts of a browser such as the interpretation of HTML. The degree to which a browser complies with that definition indicates its position on the matrix from that view. However, the two browsers mentioned are de facto standards by definition of market share not by committee compliance.

Indeed there are other browsers that comply with the standards definitions of certain parts of a web browser, but that does not make them a de facto standard.

There is a long discussion that could occur here about examples of de facto standards and their importance and the impact on the market. The purpose of this section is simply to make the distinction of de facto standards as an important class of standards that is often over looked.

De Jure Standards
More and more frequently discussions about Latin de jure (legal or committee based) have been confused with the French term de jour (of the day). The usage of de jure here is the Latin usage. De jure standards are those that have been defined or ratified by legal or official committee or standards body.

In the past, the term de jure was used to define strictly a legal standard or entity. Today, we use is more loosely and allow a committee or assigned body to define de jure standards. Indeed we have come to the point where a “task force” with no real legal power to speak of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is one of the most influential de jure-based standards bodies on the planet. The W3C has nearly reached equal influential status and impact.

One of the most important post-web technology practices is the shift of importance concerning de jure standards over de facto standards. In a Pre-Web world, de jure bodies had much less impact on the usage of standards. This was not for a lacking of time and money spent defining them and even legalizing standards.

The US Government passed a law that made parts of the International Standards Organization (ISO) Open Systems Interconnection reference model (OSI [not to be confused with the Open Source Initiative {OSI}]) required for vendors doing business with the US Government. (That law has since been rescinded of course and is why Gore takes credit for inventing the Internet.)

De Rigueur Standards
In this case, the term de rigueur is French and is when used to define a standard that is rigorously obligatory by neither de facto nor de jure means or process.

An de rigueur standard example is Microsoft’s System Message Block (SMB) technology (SMB is the technology used by Microsoft for Pre-Web file service) is dwarfed by the market share of Novell’s Novell Core Protocol (NCP) technology (A conservative estimate would be 20% SMB and 80% NCP). No de jure body has declared SMB a standard. Yet SMB is still considered a standard. Indeed the SAMBA initiative is technology that provides support for SMB systems even though SMB-based systems make up only 20% of the market. There is no open source movement to provide connectivity to real market place.

Examples of de rigueur standards of the past are:

  1. The earth is flat.
  2. The earth is the center of the universe.
  3. No one needs a computer with more than 650K of memory.
  4. Matter is solid.
  5. Protocols are static.
  6. Open source stifles innovation.