Friday, 8 August 2008

The difference between open standard and open source - the ever lasting confusion?

It's a regular déja-vu I have. Speaking about open standards and/or open source, people mix up the two concepts and get confused. Well, I wouldn't blame anybody. It's my daily job to deal with this stuff. But who am I to assume that everyone needs to know the difference and details... Far from it. It is, actually, an indication of the momentum that openness has got in the public debate and in the context of IT. People are keen on discussing these topics, on learning about it.

It happened again today over a coffee break. The typical discussion leading to the confusion about implementing an open standard on the one hand and opening up your source code on the other. One of the best descriptions of the two concepts I have read is from Bob Sutor in his essay "
Open Standards vs. Open Source: How to think about software, standards, and Service Oriented Architecture at the beginning of the 21st century".

Let me try to roughly explain in my own words: An open standard is a descripition of how to build something. If you follow the description your stuff works and everyone who implements the standard can be sure that the same basic funtionalities exist and that things are compatible with each other. Open source, on the other hand, is a specific model for developing and distributing software. Open source means that the source code is open to everyone, that the writing of the code is done in a collaborative, open way, in a communty, and that everyone can download and freely use the code for his purposes.

Clearly, openness is the overriding concept that links both open standards and open source. And both, open standards and open source are key elements of an open IT ecosystem which combines both and leverages openness for everyone's benefits - in particular for guaranteeing interoperability, interconnectivity, fairness, flexibility and choice. Yet, it is important to know the difference between the two terms and understand the concepts. There are some guys around who try to deliberately confuse people about it and confuse the public perception. So it is good that openness has a certain momentum. And everyone can build on that.

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