This primer has tried to explain what technical standards are and the key characteristics of what may be termed as open standards in the field of information technology. Specifications that satisfy these characteristics can be viewed as open ones and those that are in widespread use and acceptance may be regarded as open standards.
Open IT standards are even more important in this present information age of IT and communications convergence and the Internet. No single technology, group or vendor can provide for everything and, therefore, interoperability in a heterogeneous environment is required more than ever. It is only by strict adherence to standards and specifications that a high degree of interoperability can be achieved. Standards that are open and non-discriminatory are preferred because there is no dependence on any single entity, all types of products can implement them and all interested parties can partake in their development.
XML and related technologies are expected to play an important role in setting new standards for better interoperability and information exchange in the areas of Web applications, services and e-commerce, as well as in office applications. It is crucial that these standards are steered and developed by open standards bodies. Towards this end, it is very important that bodies like W3C, OASIS, IETF, ISO, IEEE remain open and support non-discriminatory policies especially with regard to intellectual property rights issues.
In many environments, the demand and usage of open standards go hand-in-hand with FOSS. There have been many successful FOSS implementations of open standards and so it is not surprising that many see them as working in tandem. FOSS has much to gain from open standards and wide spread adoption of the latter will help FOSS proliferate as the Internet has demonstrated. However, as pointed out in the primer, FOSS and open standards are two distinct and different domains and it is possible to have a proprietary software product implement open standards and a FOSS product make use of a proprietary specification.
The software localization initiatives of many countries will benefit from the setting and availability of more open standards in the relevant areas. The easy and free access to open standards related to internationalization and localization will encourage more local people to participate in these initiatives.
More and more governments are asking for open standards now and this is a very good sign as they are the biggest buyers and consumers of IT products and software. The vendors will have to comply with open standards and open up any proprietary file formats or specifications in response to these demands. In conjunction with this, it is hoped that more and more users too will follow suit.
It is the aim of this primer to help educate and make the reader aware of the benefits of open standards in terms of enhancing interoperability in an increasingly heterogeneous environment. It should be the ultimate objective of users to be able to access and use applications and services using any device, platform or interface of their choice. At the same time, they should be able to exchange information and data from these applications/services with other users without suffering any degradation in content. Open standards represent one important possible way to achieve this objective.