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... so many to choose from

What if you gave a standard and nobody came?

Standards are a good thing, and open standards are even better, but do I really have a standard just because I say so? Some of the most successful standards are de facto standards — standards that have become so because a product has been accepted by the market and become the paragon against which others are judged. Linux could not exist without Unix having first established a de facto standard.

On the other hand, proprietary standards can fail to take hold because the market does not accept them. The classic example here is Beta vs. VHS — it is widely accepted that despite Beta being a better quality format, Sony's refusal to open (even license) its standard, let VHS dominate in the marketplace.

Postscript and Java are interesting standards to compare. Adobe has retained control of the Postscript standard, but because Postscript has to have an interface to page layout programs that is well-specified, third parties have been able to create Postscript emulators, competing with Adobe's proprietary implementation. Adobe has retained market share by continuing to provide value — Adobe's engine remains the touchstone against which all other emulators are judged.

Sun has waffled on whether to relinquish control of Java to ECMA in an attempt to gain greater acceptance while preventing the divergence that plagued Lisp and Unix in the early 70's. Sun has had less success than Adobe in licensing "true" Java, perhaps because the value is less clear.

The question is: when developing a new product, at what point do I want to standardize it?

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