Standards, for what they’re worth, help keep down the costs of desktop computing. So called “open” standards which are available in one form or another to all software publishers and hardware manufacturers also reduce costs and spread the use of new technology.
Steve Jobs, Apple’s founder and CEO, once said something like, the “desktop wars” are over, Microsoft won, let’s get over it and get on with life.
He was referring to the desktop operating system battle that waged between Apple and Microsoft. With an 80% to 90% market share of all desktop computers, it’s hard to argue with Jobs’ logic. The “standard” of the desktop is Microsoft.
That being said, it’s important to note that what makes up the digital desktop today is many “standards” and not just the many flavors of Windows.
Among “standards” that make life easier for all computer and digital lifestyle users are: HTML and CSS for web browsing, Apache for web serving. XML and ODBC for data exchange. USB and Firewire for high speed peripheral devices. ATA, SATA, SCSI for hard drives.
Open Source tools such as PHP, MySQL, Perl and many others. CompactFlash for storing photos in cameras. The JPEG “standard” for digital photos. The TCP/IP “standard” and ethernet make the Internet work.
The list of NON-Microsoft standards could go on and on.
For many of us Mac users there are other standards we deal with every day. MP3 is the defacto online download music “standard.” Apple’s iTunes plays on both Mac and Windows and will play many different formats: AAC, MP3, WAV, and others.
Microsoft’s new Windows Media Player 10 (WMP10) also plays many different NON-Windows/Microsoft formats, but not the format from the most popular portable music player, Apple’s iPod. That’s AAC.
On the video side, there’s plenty of so-called “standards”, too. MPEG2 is used in most DVD movies. There’s also MPEG1 which muxes audio and video together and from which the audio standard MP3 is derived. MPEG4, as I understand it, is based upon Apple’s QuickTime technology. Better video and audio quality, smaller file size.
An alternative desktop and server “standard” is Linux (in its various flavors), which is based upon previous Unix (Mac OS X is based on the Mach kernel and BSD Unix). Interestingly, Microsoft made gazillions of dollars and made Windows the desktop “standard” for most businesses by being “good enough” to get past the superior Mac OS of the 1980s. Forget the fact that Microsoft did so illegally and was convicted for such.
Now, the nearly free Linux is just about “good enough” to play well on the desktop and that threatens Microsoft’s lucrative revenue stream. Like Mac OS X, Linux adheres to enough open “standards” to be very competitive with the obviously expensive, often buggy, and seemingly always insecure software from Microsoft.
The battle for “standards” has been ongoing and will continue to go on. There will be winners and losers.
It’s been said that in war, one of the first casualties is “truth” (or, information, or your bias inserted…). So it is with the battle between Apple and Microsoft.
Truth in “standards” is becoming a casualty.
Look at recent news headlines.
RealNetworks offers a fire sale on music downloads at half Apple’s iTunes Music Store price. The result, according to Real is a doubling of their market share and a substantial drop in Apple’s share. Apple replies that sales actually went up during the same period and market share increased.
Meanwhile, Microsoft claims that Apple’s iPod won’t play the “standard” of music downloads (a statement which they retracted after readers responded pointing out the inacuracy); Windows audio. If Windows is a “standard” at 80% or 90% market share, why isn’t iPod, iTunes, iTunes Music Store a standard with 60% to 70% market share, respectively?
Forbes Magazine gushes over the new MSN Music Store and Microsoft’s WMP10 and says it’s “open” while Apple’s iTunes and iPod is “closed” (proprietary).
What’s Open and what’s Closed about either?
The answer is that they’re both “standards” and both are open and closed. At the same time. Microsoft’s technology is no more “open” than Apple’s QuickTime or iPod. Both license their technology differently. Both are proprietary in some aspects (iPod won’t play Microsoft’s WMA and WMP10 won’t play music from iTMS).
As users, both Mac and Windows users will lose. Some of the time. It’s a headache keeping up with all the so-called “standards” that exist. If we invest too heavily in iPod and iTMS (and the AAC encoded music) we run the risk of conversion problems later if something better comes along.
That’s the way it’s always been. That’s the way it will always be. We have to get used to it and deal with it.
There’s an old adage which says, “nothing improves without change.” So it is with our so-called “standards wars.” Some may argue that such standards are really proprietary and are being forced upon buyers, users. That’s partially true.
Others may argue that standards do change over time and the improvements are beneficial for all. That’s mostly true.
While Apple may have lost the desktop operating system “standards” battle, it hasn’t lost the war. The company, by most accounts is prospering, growing, innovating, and grabbing mindshare, if not marketshare. That can’t be said so easily for Microsoft which has had to resort to dirty tricks, illegal activities, and mis-information to protect and grow its’ proprietary turf.
The first thing we can do as users, Mac or Windows, is not worry too much about the so-called standards, but adopt that which works well for us and continually examine the benefits of all technology that we buy, or is “forced” upon us.
And, we can let those in the media know what we think when they seek to mis-inform the public, as often happens with Windows apologists in mainstream media. Frankly, I think they just don’t know any better. Or, they’re really overpaid for what they provide to readers.
What do you think? What are standards? Who’s winning the war? What do you think will happen in the future? What do you want to happen?
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There’s also a way to take a “standard” and get rich without doing anything (except pay lawyers). For example, a company called Forget claims to own the patent on the compression technology used in the JPEG format. Macromedia, Sony, Adobe, and others have settled with Forgent (paid money) to use JPEG. Apple has not. Forgent is threatening to sue TiVo and MP3 player makers.
Again, this battle for “standards” is far from over as IBM, Apple, Canon, HP, Kodak, Xerox and other companies filed a countersuit which claims the Forgent patent is not enforceable.
Click Here for a look at this battle, the players, and the stakes.