Subject: Re: standards & FS
From: Ian Lance Taylor <ian@airs.com>
Date: 27 May 1999 17:04:20 -0400

   From: Stephen Walli <stephen_walli@interix.com>
   Date: Thu, 27 May 1999 10:04:11 -0700

   I was hugely uncomfortable with people's discussion of "free software
   standards" and "proprietary standards".

I think I may have been responsible for bringing up standards on FSB
in the first place.  I think I said something about how the free
software community has not shown itself to be good at writing
standards.  I certainly didn't mean to distinguish free standards from
proprietary standards.

   Some observations based on this discussion to date would suggest that if
   there's exactly one true implementation of a language (Perl in this
   discussion) then no published standard is actually necessary.

I don't think a Perl standard is necessary.

That said, standards are useful when you want to write to an
interface.  You can have an interface that is defined independently of
any implementation, or you can have an interface that is defined by an
implementation.  It's easier to write to the first kind of interface.
You don't have to go poking around in the implementation to figure out
how it works.

If you don't have the source code, you must have an independent
definition or you're out of luck.

If you do have the source code, you don't need an independent
definition, because the source code itself is a precise definition of
the interface.

So I think standards are less important for the free software
community: we have the source code.

However, an implementation defined standard is slightly inaccurate in
ways that are hard to understand (because the implementation has
bugs), it is liable to change unexpectedly (because the maintainer may
see a better way of doing things), and it is difficult to work with
(because it's easier to read a natural language text than to dive into
a big program and figure out what it does).

So I think the free software community still needs standards.

Ian