There have been more stories in the news about standards than ever before. The good news is that this raises awareness about how important standards are, particularly in areas like information and communications technology. The bad news is that a lot of this news is about "standards wars." Recent sagas include the seemingly endless HD DVD - Blu-ray Group battle to the death (taking content owners and consumers along for the ride); the head butting and accusations between proponents of WiFi, which has been adopted in most of the world, and China, whose home-grown WAPI alternative was recently voted down in ISO; the rivalry between two camps in the IEEE working group chartered to develop and adopt a UWB standard (which ultimately led to its disbanding); and, of course, the contest most often covered at this blog: OpenDocument Format vs. the Microsfoft XML Reference Schema. As a result, I've dedicated the March issue of the Consortium Standards Bulletin to examining the phenomenon of Standards Wars, as well as the lesser skirmishes and escalations that can usually (but not always) avoid full scale combat.
In what must have seemed to many as a bold move, Sun Microsystems last week announced that it would released the source code for its UltraSparc T1 processor under the GPL, supported by a new organization that it calls OpenSPARC.net. But to those that have been around for a while, the announcement had an eerily familiar sound to it, and that sound was the echo of an organization called SPARC International. Formed 18 years ago to license the SPARC chip design to multiple vendors to ensure second sourcing for the hardware vendors that Sun hoped would adopt it, SPARC International seemed to be every bit as revolutionary for its time as Sun's new initiative does today.
Back then, RISC chips were brand new, and several companies opted to use the new architecture as the basis for their newest and hottest chips, including Motorola, which launched its 88000 processor as a successor to its vastly successful 68000 line (the heart of the Apple machines of that era), and an upstart chip company then called MIPS Computer Systems. Central to the appeal of the new architectural design was the "reduced instruction set computer" concept that permitted a more simplified, faster design, and which lent its introductory initials to provide the RISC name.
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Not quite two years ago I wrote an essay called Is Iraq "Another Vietnam?". By then, it had become apparent that our military venture into the Middle East would not prove to be of as limited duration as had initially been hoped. Instead, the disturbing specter of the Viet Nam experience was beginning to rise in the public consciousness — as it should have before war was declared. And many began to ask the question: "Will Iraq be "Another Viet Nam?"
Each year I recognize the most newsworthy standards organizations and the news services that did the best job covering that news. This year, I'm also recognizing the best individual journalists, bloggers and community sites as well.
On this New Years Day weekend, an alert reader and blogger in his own right forces me to reflect on the timeless question posed in 1969 by the Firesign Theatre, "How can you be two places at once, when you're really no where at all?"
It's only appropriate that on the hundredth anniversary of Einstein's Miracle Year that NIST and MIT researchers have refined the proof of the great physicist's most famous theorum more precisely than ever before