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WL4102 Presentation: Standards

As part of WL4102, students were asked to prepare presentations with a focus on concepts, technologies or tools of their choice. For my presentation, I chose the topic ‘standards’. Following research into the topic, I began to write my script, timing myself as I did so to ensure that I would stick to the allotted five minutes on the day of the presentation. This made my script add up to approximately 850 words. The script is based on the following information, which I have arranged in the form of a blog post. I have also included the sources that informed my presentation and compiled a list that can be found at the bottom of this post. While speaking, I displayed an outline of my presentation on my blog to aid those in attendance in following the presentation. I have attached a screenshot below.

Standards in computing are sets of specifications, or guidelines, for developing a certain computer technology, be that hardware or software. 

The first electronic digital computer was completed over 70 years ago and for about 10 years after that, each new computer developed was a wholly unique design. This was very costly. In the late 1950s, computers called mainframes emerged. These were cheaper to produce and were produced in greater quantity. Each manufacturer developed its own standards to build a complete system, for example, control and programming methods. When computers gained commercial popularity in the latter part of the 20th century, they became smaller and were produced in much greater numbers. This is largely due to standards. A huge advantage of standards stems from the fact that they help in creating programs that work on different systems, or that are compatible with different systems. The increasing number of computers produced was possible largely due to manufacturers’ ability to draw on standards to manufacture a range of products relying on the same technologies. (Sources: History and Impact of Computer Standards [Anniversary Feature] – Computer: page 3, BBC Bitesize – GCSE Computer Science – Standards – Revision 1)

Some characteristics of standards, as detailed by Marvin Waschke, are that standards are established by custom, by general consent or by an authority. They are widely followed and are usually documented with great precision. The scope and applicability, or what the standard actually provides for, are usually widely understood. Examples include Unicode, the QWERTY keyboard layout and the file format MP3. Some of the major standards organisations include the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which maintains standards of every kind, and the World Wide Web Consortium, which focuses on standards for web-based technologies. (Sources: Cloud Standards: Agreements That Hold Together Clouds – Marvin Waschke – Google Books: pages 26 and 27BBC Bitesize – GCSE Computer Science – Standards – Revision 1)

There are two types of standards, which relate to the source of the standard itself: de facto and de jure. Both come from Latin, with de facto meaning ‘in practice’ and de jure meaning ‘in law’. In the case of a de facto standard, a person or a company builds a system in a certain way and this system could be a success and be used more, either by the original creator or by others. It then evolves so that the majority of systems are developed in this way and a de facto standard exists. There are no standard bodies involved in this standard’s development. An example of this is IBM’s PC design. (Source: Cloud Standards: Agreements That Hold Together Clouds – Marvin Waschke – Google Books: pages 27-32)

De jure standards, on the other hand, are sanctioned by a standard body, like the World Wide Web Consortium, which maintains the XML Schema Definition (XSD) language. This standard defines the “legal building blocks of an XML document”. This ensures that XML is valid and well-formed. (Source: XML Schema Tutorial

De Jure standards are sometimes also backed by government bodies, such as pharmaceutical safety standards. De jure standards may start as de facto standards. One example of a de facto standard becoming a de jure standard is the C programming language. The language was originally detailed in a book by its creators, Brian Kerrigan and Dennis Ritchie, in 1978. It gained popularity and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) published a C standard language in 1989. (Source: Cloud Standards: Agreements That Hold Together Clouds – Marvin Waschke – Google Books: pages 32-36)

Another distinction can be drawn between open and proprietary standards. Open standards are made openly available to the public, either through a Creative Commons License or by being unlicensed, along with any supporting material needed to fully understand the scope and applicability of the standard. An example of this is HTML. Proprietary standards are privately owned by an organisation or individual. The owner can control the use of the standard through the licensing terms. An example of this is a DOC file, or the Microsoft Word Document file format. Stacy Baird states that these standards allow for more efficiency in the development of a new product, as the procedural issues involved in open standard-setting organisations are avoided, such as the issue of reaching a consensus among everybody involved. (Sources: BBC Bitesize – GCSE Computer Science – Standards – Revision 3Opening Standards: The Global Politics of Interoperability – Google Bookspage 19)

An example of a technical standard is ISO 639, which is the international standard for language codes. The purpose of ISO 639 is to maintain internationally recognised codes to represent languages or language families. This standard is a de jure standard, as it is maintained by a standards organisation: the International Organization for Standardization. It is an open standard, as the codes can be used without having to deal with any licensing terms. This example shows that standards are diverse in how they are used as these language codes can be used in coding and can be used in a library setting. (Source: ISO 639 Language codes)

In summary, standards are sets of specifications or guidelines for developing a certain aspect of computer technologies. They provide a means of creating programs and products compatible with different systems. They can be de jure or de facto, open or proprietary, and can be used in a variety of settings. 

List of sources:

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