I have embarked on many editorials by asking the question ‘what is a standard’ and proceeded into tortuous attempts to classify standards into de-facto, de-jure, de-funct and so on before wielding the most powerful weapon in the editorialist’s armory—the delete key. This time around, there will be no classifications, just a couple of observations. The first of which is how is it that the Open Source movement—which never uses the word ‘standard’—actually produces much more standard software than the, um, standards?
Before I try to answer that I’d like to take you through some of the highlights of the current standards efforts—of which you can read much more in our reports from POSC and PPDM. Two prizes for best effort. A ‘most promising’ to WITSML. And a ‘most useful’ to the PPDM Spatial II project. On discussion with the judges though, I am unfortunately obliged to disqualify the Spatial II project on the grounds that, interesting and useful as it may be, a project which is as closely coupled to a commercial product cannot really be considered ‘standard.’
Both PPDM and POSC remain strapped for cash and are resorting to semi-privately funded ‘project-based’ programs. The good news is that these have saved both organizations’ bacon by injecting much needed liquidities. The bad news is: if you want to promote a technology as a ‘standard’ the last thing you want to do is to make it somehow private. It’s sad really that so many oils have cut their paltry contributions to the .orgs. It is sadder still that those remaining are operating behind almost closed doors. Heck you oil co’s—take a chance—pay up if you are not already doing so. And if you are paying into a project—don’t close the doors!
Which brings me to my next prize—a wooden spoon for the silliest download I have ever made. While exploring the POSC website looking for information on the otherwise meritorious, although ‘private’ POSC information cataloguing project—itself a spin-off from the Shell Expro ‘Discovery’ work—I came across a 320 MByte video. Wow I thought this must be interesting! A couple of hours of ADSL later, I made myself a coffee and sat back to enjoy. What a rip-off! A disembodied hand laboriously empties the carefully arranged tiles from a mahjong box onto a table. Then, with an implausibly grand gesture, tries to sweep them back into the box. Hey what do you know—they don’t fit! It all has to do with entropy—which is a fancy way of saying ‘if you don’t put your tools away, you can never find a screwdriver’. What the intended audience for this video timewaster is I’m not sure. A child of three perhaps—or a senior executive? Is there a hidden message here?
The perpetual complaint of standards advocates is of non-compliance. Even small differences in implementation can wreak havoc at run time. XML is generally accepted as a potential solution to this. Not only does the ASCII-based standard support cross platform data exchange, the various data templates allow for on-the-fly validation of an implementation. Most developers are happy to support compliance with their own DTD or style sheet. But compliance with other folks’ oeuvre is too much of an effort for most programmers. So my message for management is—now you have XML and enforceable compliance—use it.
If you want to flex your compliance muscles you probably won’t have to look very far. Your corporate website is probably written in HTML—actually it has to be for it to work. So this is a good starting place. How do you check your own website? Go to validator.w3.org and feed in the url of your home page. The World Wide Web consortium provides this software which checks the page to see if a) it includes a reference to the exact flavor of HTML that is used and b) lists errors in the HTML code and exceptions to the standard. The reference bit is necessary because you have to know what version of HTML you are trying to comply with. HTML has evolved over the years and you should be aware of what version your webmeister is operating on. The most recent is actually XHTML—a more tightly specified version of the standard which imposes strict limits on what can be done.
All of the sites we tried (POSC, PPDM and, we’re sorry to say, oilit.com!) failed in one way or other. Many fail because the programmer hasn’t even bothered to indicate which version of HTML is supposed to be in use. The validator can’t validate without this. Others show minor exceptions—which are none the less indicative of a sloppy approach to coding.
You have probably read elsewhere about the law court battle between Sun and Microsoft about the (non) inclusion of Java in Windows XP. What Sun and others rightly fear is that by making it just that little bit harder to use non Microsoft technologies, Bill Gates will be able to leverage the new .NET technology into a dominant position over Java—and indeed over other key developments that make up the Web—notably the Open Source Apache web server, the ‘Linux’ of the internet.
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