Many years ago I wrote a posting on the similarities between standards development and open source. It seems like now would be a good time to revisit that topic, given all the activities that are blurring the barriers.
The premise still remains. Standards are designed to stabilize a technology or interface, package or connection. Open source is driven by continual development. Standards tend to update and publish on a schedule measured in years, while open source updates and publishes in sometimes days. Standards drive the status quo. Open source (often) drives innovation.
This really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Open source is the operative paradigm for development these days, whether it is within a company firewall or not. Open source underlies even the most innovative of closed software products. Estimates from analysts state that 90% of software is a hybrid of open source and closed source code. Open source practices help define innovative techniques, or to paraphrase “Linus’ Law” from Eric Raymond, “Given enough eyeballs, all ideas are approachable.”
Even certain of the conceptual business models of open source align with standards development. In software, revenue is often driven by scarcity. In open source, revenue is driven by ubiquity. The more potential places to sell adjacent tools, services, and support, the more potential revenue capture. (Yes, that’s not the only model for open source revenue.) Even in proprietary products with open source underpinnings, the more widespread the underlying package, the more potential gain from that products innovation and support in the community. Standards attempt to capture this common denominator.
Of course there are risks in this approach. Interminable “conversations” can stall progress to stabilization. Speed of innovation can threaten the success of a defined standard. Intellectual Property concerns, in particular patents, can derail efforts in crossing the barrier between open source contributions and standards development. Yet those risks are manageable, though the process of managing them often upsets the mindset of open source developers. Contributor License Agreements and ownership assignments are just two of such concepts.
Adobe believes in the power of open source to allow innovation in standards. Projects like WebKit and Cordova help us demonstrate the appeal of new concepts and technologies in creating new platforms for all of us.