Standards - we all march to the same drummer

May 17, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I am writing this from Atlanta, GA, where I am attending the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11 standards meetings. If you are reading this then you have access to the internet. If the 'connection' from your viewing device has no wires then very likely the characters of this text that appear on your screen are arriving there (over the air) via the IEEE 802.11 standards. IEEE 802.11 specifies the process for a wireless local area network connection between an endpoint device (that you're looking at now) and the network. Commercial products that employ 802.11 standards use the terminology WiFi. Every two months 802.11 participants meet to discuss enhancing and improving the standards to keep up with demands for new services, new features on existing services, and of course, faster speed. Having 'standards' can be a good thing as they enable interoperability among products from different vendors. Your WiFi enabled computer can be from anywhere and it can connect to the wireless router at the Starbucks made by Linksys or the wireless router at the airport (any airport) made by for instance Belkin, etc. Why does it work? Because both sides adhere to the 802.11 wireless standards. When standards are not used then incompatibilities arise. In photography this happens when Nikon encodes their raw digital images using the Nikon format (NEF), Canon uses something different, certainly not NEF. Other makers use their own encoding formats too. But, what if all the owners of these different cameras want to use Adobe Photoshop to process their raw camera captures? It can happen that when one tries to read in their camera proprietary files and open them in Photoshop an error message pops up that the file cannot be opened because Adobe cannot decode it. Usually, if the camera brand is popular, as Nikon, Canon, Sony, etc, all are, they give the details for their encoding formats to Adobe (or provide a decoder to Adobe) so that their files can be opened. Still it can be an inconvenience if this sharing has not happened. This is a simple case where vendors do not use standards and it creates an inconvenience for users. In this case they usually do eventually agree to share relevant details, but often as well, vendors do not use standards and do not share with other vendors. In this case, the only recourse is to use all products made by the same vendor (and this is the motivation for vendors not to share information).

While camera vendors have proprietary formats for their raw image files, happily for consumers, all vendors do comply with a universal standard for certain of their image files. You are probably familiar with the acronym "JPEG". This is a standard for compressed image files and if vendors comply with this standard then such files can be viewed on most all computers and with most all image viewing software. All digital cameras offer the option of outputting the image files in JPEG format, which can be viewed and shared immediately, without processing or conversion.

So standards can be good. But a case can be made against standards as well. Standards can stifle innovation. If individual vendors were implementing their own wireless protocols and procedures, arguably, each vendor would have an implementation with some feature that the others didn't have and the marketplace would have a chance to vote on which it liked and which it did not. By adhering to a standard the vendor has little incentive to innovate on his own in those aspects of his product that correspond to the standard. Innovation takes place in the standards meetings, like the one I am presently attending. But as one would expect, movement in these large bodies is slow, much slower than any single vendor could realize on its own. There is a danger that by the time a standards committee adopts a feature, the technology has already passed it by and moved on to something even better.


For details on 802.11 wireless standards see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE_802.11
For details on photographic image file formats see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raw_image_format
 


Comments

No comments posted.
Loading...

Archive
January February March (1) April (1) May (2) June July (1) August September October November (2) December (5)
January (2) February (2) March (2) April (3) May (1) June July (1) August September October (1) November December
January (1) February March (1) April May (1) June July August September October November December
January (1) February March April May June July August September October (1) November December
January February March (1) April May June July August September October November (1) December
January February March April May June July August September October November December