Re: Netscape v NCSA, Progress?

Dave Crocker (
Wed, 19 Oct 1994 17:03:40 -0700

At 8:16 AM 10/19/94, dkearns{TCNET/HR/dkearns} wrote:
>can. The 'specification' is published. Mosaic Communications hasn't slapped
>a copyright on them. There's no royalty payment.
>The fact that they were decided without 'public discussion' does not make
>them proprietary.

Well, yes, actually it does. The word 'proprietary' and the distinction
between proprietary and open really have to do with ownership. As in,

People often confused 'public availability of a spec' with 'open
technology'. The reality is that publishing a proprietary spec serves to
permit a third-party aftermarket, but still leaves the technology under
non-public control.

Just for grins, I'm attaching the relevant portion of my ACM paper on the
IETF standards process; it talks about just this distinction.

>No one owns the web. No one owns HTML. Anyone can announce that the browser
>they've developed will support the elements <X> </X>, or in-line mpeg, or

Dave, that's not the way the public interoperability game is played. The
reason for a standards process is to obtain community consensus about
features and details. As I've said, there are all sorts of reasons to work
separately from such a process, but we all need to realize that the
efficiencies and speediness and other benefits of such private efforts
nonetheless carry some costs, in particular, costs in terms of less
inteorperability and increased market leverage (for the producer of the

>That's how de facto standards are created. And, funny thing, de facto

You are, of course, correct. And it's a very good way to make progress
quickly. But as I've said, the question then is whether the community is
given control or whether proprietary interests prevail.


=A9 1993, Association for Computing Machinery

[Reprinted from: D. Crocker, "Making Standards the IETF Way";
StandardView , Vol 1, No. 1,1993(1)]

<<This is also available via>>


The commercial pressure for open systems has been specifically
intended to let customers obtain products from a variety of vendors,
potentially buying each component with a competitive bid. But there
are different ways to create multiple sources of a product, so the
remainder of this section considers the options and particularly the
types of organizations that produce these various kinds of open

Open publication

A vendor may publish the specifications of their proprietary
technology. This allows a third-party "aftermarket" to exist, usually
selling products at a lower price than the vendor who owns the
specification. At any time, however, the vendor may choose to change
the specification and delay publication of the changes until after the
vendor has released its own new products.

Another concern is that specifications are not universally
available. For example, requiring consortium membership, with high
membership fees, effectively restricts the free flow of information to
the community at large. Certainly consortia have special advantage by
controlling the content of a specification, while preventing community-
wide review of its choices.

Open ownership

Traditional, "accredited" standards bodies have relatively liberal
rules of membership and conduct open meetings. They publish their
specifications, though usually for a significant price, making them
available to any customer or vendor. No single company and no market-
driven consortium control the specifications, allowing vendors to work
from a reasonably level playing field. Work is done only at meetings
which are held at venues around the world. This requires major
investment by anyone wishing to attend, constituting an implicit
barrier to regular, broad-based participation.

Open development

The most extreme approach develops specifications in a forum open
to anyone who is interested in participating, allowing on-line contri
bution so that travel is not required. The results then are also
available to all, at little or no charge and in a highly convenient on-
line format to anyone interested in reading them. This is the
approach used by the Internet.

Selection of technical topics also can be by open process. If a
topic lacks an adequate constituency, it's not pursued. If a topic
has diverse constituencies they are free to go their own ways and the
market chooses among them. Continuing on-line discussions, away from
the meetings, allows progress to be made quickly.

Dave Crocker
Brandenburg Consulting Phone: +1 408 246 8253
675 Spruce Dr. Fax: +1 408 249 6205
Sunnyvale, CA 94086 Email: