The law of standards
Message-id: <>
Date: Fri, 22 Mar 91 01:47:31 EST
Subject: The law of standards
As a participant in various kinds of standards efforts within IBM and
some outside of IBM, I have formulated a law of standards based on
observations of various efforts:

   Whenever a major organization develops a new system as an official
   standard for X, the primary result is the widespread adoption of
   some simpler system as a de facto standard for X.


1. IBM and SHARE developed PL/I as a new universal programming language.

   Result:  COBOL became the standard for business programming, and
            FORTRAN became the standard for science & engineering.

   Note:  COBOL and FORTRAN were both introduced in the late 1950s, but
   the introduction of PL/I in the mid '60s coincided with a major
   increase in the use of both COBOL and FORTRAN.

2. IFIP developed ALGOL-68 as the standard for academic computing.

   Result:  Pascal became the standard for academic computing.

3. DARPA developed Ada as the standard for systems programming.

   Result:  C (a language that violated nearly every one of the design
            goals for Ada) became the standard for system programming.

4. IBM and Microsoft developed OS/2 as a standard operating system for
   IBM-PC compatible machines.

   Result:  Microsoft Windows became the standard.

Although the cause and effect relationships are not entirely clear,
these examples are not coincidences.  A major standards effort is not
started until a lot of people begin to feel the need for standards.
The proposal of a new standard and the effort to produce it heighten
awareness among the practitioners.  But the long delay before the
new standard becomes available leads people who have urgent problems
to look for something they can start using sooner.

Moral:  Standards efforts lead to standards, but not always the ones
that were intended.  So one way or another, I hope that something
useful may come out of this workshop.