A big surprise in your ISO standard

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We’re back fresh from a long Memorial Day holiday weekend and rarin’ to take on another controversial topic: ISO standards versus open source.

I’ll bet a lot of people have never considered the difference between the two and assign very similar benefits to being an ISO standard as being open or open source. But there’s a world of difference. And CAD and PLM users, in particular, should pay attention to the very different qualities of the two classifications. In particular, CAD and PLM users should make sure not to assume that an ISO standard gives them the opportunities or protections that real open source products offer.

Recently, we attended a competitive vendor’s presentation which made a big deal of the fact that they’d submitted their proprietary file format definition to the ISO. The not-very-subtle implication was that by having an ISO standard, this file format (which is already in use on tens of millions of consumer computers), was “open.”

Uh….not so fast. In a nutshell, ISO ain’t open source. Far from it. The ISO is a super-bureaucracy of bureaucracies. Don’t think for a minute that these standards-setting committees are like the open source projects which actually publish source code and buglists and interface specifications.

In many ways, ISO standards are the opposite. It’s can be naked attempt to have a possibly proprietary standard adopted for worldwide use. There’s nothing wrong with standards, of course. Standards are a good thing.

But the difference between a committee-adopted standard and true open source can be subtle. And extension of currently open file formats that are submitted to the ISO doesn’t mean that the specifications and future of that extended file format are really in the hands of users. For example, ask yourself if you could access the file data via XML or other open APIs? (I apologize for the naked promotion of Seemage in what is otherwise meant to be a serious discussion of the confusion between ISO standards and open.)

Open is about decentralized control and visibility. Standards are not necessarily the same thing. The nasty surprise is that an ISO standard can mean the imposition of a proprietary format on your PLM and CAD systems. Imagine the look on your face when that comes back to bite you.

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