Geoff Zeiss

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April 06, 2006


Jason Birch

Hi Geoff,

You said: "When you see well-developed standards you are likely dealing with context, which is where open source does well."

This is certainly one of the places where open source does well. :)

In my experience open source thrives in areas where there are open standards because each project can bite off the chunk of a large problem that is most important to them. This kind of core competencies focus works well for open source, and would work well in proprietary companies if lock-in wasn't seen as a competitive advantage. Unfortunately it's up to the market to remove that competitive advantage. Another strength for open source is in areas that are either relatively simple, or have a large mindshare (ie. are cool). In these areas, open source is often an innovator rather than an implementor. For instance, open source blogging and bulletin board software often have innovative features far in advance of their proprietary counterparts.

Standards are a completely different area. Standards bodies are typically made up of commercial entities, which restricts open source involvement. It also means that standards are slow to evolve because first, companies need to be forced by the market to put time into standards development and, second, because it is in each company's best interest to develop a standard that is easiest to implement within their software stack. I'm not saying that there are no egos or vested interests in open source, but interoperability is a crucial component of most open source projects' business. You often see ad-hoc standards between open source projects developed much quicker than traditional processes, and with a tighter real-world focus. An example of the speed at which this works is the work on a standard web map tiling scheme that started in email, then moved to FOSS4G, and continues offline. Another is the development of the GeoRSS standard. Neither of these are official standards, but both will provide needs that are not being met by the traditional standards process.


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