Our world has huge problems to solve, and open-source and open-standard communities working together in that quest are desperately needed.
Let me give you a strong example taken from the harsh realities of 2020. Last year, the United States experienced nearly 60,000 wildfires that burned more than 10 million acres, resulting in the destruction of more than 9,500 homes and the loss of at least 43 lives.
I served as a volunteer firefighter in California for 10 years and saw the critical importance of technology in helping firefighters communicate efficiently and deliver safety-critical information quickly. Typically, several agencies appear to fight these fires, bringing with them radios made by various manufacturers that each use proprietary software to set the radio frequency. As a result, reprogramming these radios so that teams can communicate with each other is an unnecessarily slow – and potentially life-threatening – process.
If radio manufacturers had instead contributed an open-source implementation conforming to a standard, radios could be quickly combined with similar frequencies. Radio manufacturers could provide a valuable, life-saving device rather than a time-wasting hindrance, and they could share the cost of developing such software. In this situation, like many others, there is no competitive advantage to be gained from proprietary radio-programming software and there are many invaluable advantages to be gained by standardization.
Open source and open standards are clearly different, but the aims of these communities are the same: interoperability, innovation, and the like.
The advantage of consistent standards and associated open-source implementations is not unique to safety-critical situations like wildfire. There are many areas of our lives that could benefit significantly from better integration of standards and open source.
Open Source and Open Standard: What’s the Difference?
“Open source” describes software that is publicly accessible and free for anyone to use, modify, and share. It also describes a collaborative, community-oriented software development philosophy with open exchange of ideas, open participation, rapid prototyping, and open governance and transparency.
In contrast, the term “standard” refers to agreed definitions of functionality. These requirements, specifications and guidelines ensure that products, services and systems perform in an interoperable manner with quality, safety and efficiency.
Dozens of organizations exist for the purpose of setting and maintaining standards. Examples include the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Oasis Open also falls in this category. A standard is “open” when it is developed through a consensus-building process, guided by open, fair and transparent organizations. Most would agree that the standards-making process is careful and deliberate, ensuring consensus through compromise and resulting in long-lasting specifications and technical limitations.
Where is the common ground?
Open source and open standards are clearly different, but the aims of these communities are the same: interoperability, innovation, and the like. The main difference is how they accomplish those goals, and by that I’m mainly talking about culture and speed.
Chris Ferriss, a fellow at IBM and CTO of Open Technology, recently told me that with standards organizations, it often feels like the whole thing is to take things slow. Sometimes it’s with good reason, but I’ve seen even the best people in competition. Open source appears to be much more collaborative and less controversial or competitive. That doesn’t mean there aren’t competing projects that are dealing with the same domain.
Another culture characteristic that influences speed is that open source is about writing code and standards organizations are about writing prose. Words underpin the code with respect to long-term interactivity, so the standards culture is more deliberate and thoughtful as it develops the prose that defines the standards. Although standards are not technically stable, the intention with a standard is to arrive at something that will work without significant change over a long period of time. In contrast, the open-source community writes code with an iterative mindset, and the code is essentially in a state of constant development. These two cultures sometimes clash when communities try to move together.
If so, why try to find harmony?
Collaboration between open source and open standards will drive innovation
The Internet is a perfect example of what harmony between open-source and open-standard communities can achieve. When the Internet began as ARPANET, it relied on common shared communication standards that predate TCP/IP. Over time, standards and open-source implementations brought us TCP/IP, HTTP, NTP, XML, SAML, JSON and many others, and additional major global systems such as Disaster Alert (OASIS) implemented in open standards and code. Enabled construction. CAP) and Standardized Global Business Invoicing (OASIS UBL).
The Internet has literally changed our world. That level of technological innovation and transformational power is also possible for the future, if we re-energize the spirit of collaboration between open standards and open source communities.
Finding a Natural Path to Harmony and Integration
With all significant open-source projects residing in repositories today, there are many opportunities for collaboration on associated standards to ensure the long-term operability of that software. Part of our mission at OASIS Open is to identify and provide those open-source projects with a collaborative environment and all the scaffolding needed to build a standard without becoming a tedious process.
Another point Ferris shared with me is the need to move down this path of integration. For example, this requirement is especially prevalent if you want your technology to be used in Asia: if you don’t have an international standard, Asian enterprises may not even want to hear from you. We see that the European Community is also emphasizing a strong priority for standards. It’s certainly a driver for open-source projects that want to play with some of the heavy hitters in the ecosystem.
Another area where you can see a growing need for integration is when an open-source project becomes larger than itself, meaning it begins to affect many other systems, and alignment between them is needed. is. An example would be a standard for telemetry data, which is now being used for many different purposes, from observation to security. Another example is a software bill of materials, or SBOM. I know there are a few things being done to address the challenge of tracking the emergence of software in the open source world. This is another case where, if we are going to be successful at all, we need a standard to rise to.
It’s going to be a team effort
Fortunately, the end goals of the open-source and open-standard communities are the same: interoperability, innovation, and the like. We also have excellent proof points of how and why we need to work together, from the Internet to Topology and Orchestration Specifications for Cloud Applications (TOSCA) and more. Furthermore, key stakeholders are carrying the banner, acknowledging that some open-source projects require us to take a strategic, long-term approach that includes standards.
This is a great start to the team effort. It is time for the foundation to step up to the plate and collaborate with each other and those stakeholders.