11.0213 standards & innovation

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sun, 3 Aug 1997 22:15:58 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 213.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Fri, 01 Aug 1997 18:02:45 -0400
From: David Pinaula <pinaula@email.unc.edu>
Subject: Re: 11.0210 grumbling code

I read Jim Marchand's grumblings with appreciation, as I and, I'm sure,
many others have encountered similar problems in the past. With the
prevalent forces that drive the computer industry, however, it seems
doubtful we'll see the benefits of standardization any time soon.
Innovation and technological evolution seem largely driven by the
commercial marketplace and it is often elements of nonstandardization that
mark one product from its competition. The recent development of HTML and
Java comes to mind as an example of this phenomenon. HTML has long had a
standard, albeit an evolving one, for the very reasons of multiplatform
compatability and interchangeability Jim notes. One doesn't have to go far
back in one's memory, however, to recall the enhancements to the standard
Netscape and MIcrosoft both implemented as a way to add value and
differentiation to their browsers. This attempt at innovation and added
marketplace appeal subverts standardization, but often achieves the
economic goals each corporation hopes to reach. How many of us have been
guilty of implementing these nonstandard features on our Web pages, fully
aware that doing so flies in the face of the universal exchangeability the
Web might promise? This appeal of enhancement through nonstandardization
continues to subvert standards today, perhaps best manifested in the need
for a "100% Pure Java" campaign to stem the tide of performance-enhancing
"tweaks" that defeat the multiplatform promise of Java.

It's equally apparent that these forces are at work in the development of
hardware. Removable storage media is in the midst of a period of
nonstandardization that will not shake out until the marketplace has had
its say. Will the next portable storage standard be that of Iomega,
Syquest, the LS-120 group or one which hasn't yet made itself apparent? A
de facto standard exists for portable storage media, but how can the
capacity of a 1.44Mb floppy hope to hold off the onslaught of the 100Mb+
nonstandard media on the market now?

It seems to me that nonstandardization to some degree is the price we pay
for innovation and development, one which will continue to be exacted so
long as marketplace competition drives research and development dollars on
the corporate level.
David Pinaula
English Department
421 Greenlaw Hall, CB # 3520
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599 USA
Public Encryption Key 0xD921B79B

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