UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Christmas Quiz

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 Dec 2006

A quiz for Christmas.

Which of the following are open standards:

Flash     PDF     RSS 1.0     RSS 2.0     MS Word

As a follow-up, give reasons why the opposite of what you said may be true.

Please use the comments box for your thoughts.

11 Responses to “Christmas Quiz”

  1. first, my definition of an open standard: publicly available and able to be implemented such that two or more different uses of the standard will be compatible and accessible.


    Flash – anybody can buy flash, anybody can download the flash player (tick!). Anyone can implement flash into a web page which can be viewed on a number of browsers (tick!).
    Flash – embedding it into a webpage with xhtml is damn near impossible (boo!). You can’t create a flash movie without using the proprietary software (boo!)

    PDF – anyone can buy adobe acrobat, anybody can download adobe reader (tick!). And there are a number of shareware programs that let you convert files into pdf (tick!)
    PDF – there are some problems with different programs rendering pdf files in the same way (eg internal hyperlinks), or embedding the different security options (boo!)

    RSS 1.0 – based on final RDF specifications (tick!) and with XML (tick!), can be implemented by anyone in any website and read by many readers (tick!)
    RSS 1.0 – not compatible with 0.91 (boo!), has problems rendering html properly (boo!)… version problems with 0.91/2.0

    RSS 2.0 – pretty much as above! although it was an attempt to standardise, Winer has confused lots of reasonable people in the process! Why should I have to put a 1.0, 2.0 (and atom!) link on my blog? That implies that the ‘standard’ is just going to be the most widely used one, rather than being a fair one.

    MS Word – anyone can buy word (tick!), then write and save a word document (tick!). Can be viewed and edited in lots by lots of different word processors (tick!)
    MS Word – only viewed and edited by lots of different word processors because if those programs hadn’t been able to open Word Documents then they would have been useless, market share being so huge. (boo!)


  2. I think open standards are something like: open procedures and the opportunity for participation, followed by free or unencumbered implementation for toolkits.

    By this, I reckon only RSS 1.0 comes anywhere close because it has a specification which it is, or has been, possible to directly influence; it’s also possible to create and modify the specification provided the copyright notice is maintained.

    Flash, PDF MS Word are proprietary standards. Adobe and Microsoft respectively can choose to change them whenever they like and break everyone else’s implementation.

    In MS Word’s case I don’t think it’s even published, unlike the Adobe standards, so it’s all reverse engineered (or licensed) work (such as the Apache POI project), so it’s even more closed.

    RSS 2.0 is published but there is a strict copyright on the usage of the term, and no-one apart from Dave Winer may make changes to it (“Someone has to have the last word, and when it comes to the RSS 2.0 roadmap, that’s me”, “I am banging the gavel”).

    Incidentally, comment preview would be nice.

  3. I think that Flash itself isn’t the standard, it’s the official authoring tool and general brand name for the technology. Other authoring tools can author ‘Flash’; the export format is various version of Shockwave Flash. I think this can now be authored in an open way using an intermediary format:

    MS Word isn’t a standard either. Do you mean the binary format, or the new Office 2007 XML-based ones? The latter are supposedly open:

    AFAIK, PDF has been opened up by Adobe, but only current versions, not future ones, giving the company the development monopoly. This may be incorrect or different now.

    RSS 1.0 and 2.0 are embroiled in a lot angsty stuff. We use 2.0 because it’s simple and effective (and you can validate it against a schema, which is why we wouldn’t want to use RDF), but it’s not open enough to replace Stupid American Date format with UTC.

    The question isn’t clear about what is the standard: the interface, the file format, the information model…? I took it to mean something like the data binding format.

  4. What’s the prize and who decides on the winner!?

  5. Hi Andy
    That’s the problem with Christmas today – it’s all about taking. This is an old-fashioned Chrtistmas quiz: no prizes, its about giving. And there’s no winner, rather we’re all winners :-)

  6. A winner! (in the spirit of Brian’s most recent comment.)

    Flash, PDF and more recent versions of MS Word are all open in the sense that the file format is published, and it is possible to create tools to read/render content in those formats using nothing except the published standards. Most of the time that’s what I care about: I don’t want to be dependent on a single source for the ability to read content created using particular tools. Ideally I would like to be able to *create* content using indepedent tools as well. That’s certainly possible using PDF, but I seem to recall that Flash’s documentation license prevents you using it to write tools to create Flash files (that hasn’t stopped some people doing it, though.) So Flash is less open. Word is really many formats and some of them were not fully documented, or were otherwise encumbered by license restrictions.

    All of them are not open in the sense that new versions of the formats can be created at the whim of the company that owns them. I am not so worried about that; if I don’t like PDF 1.7 because of some new license twist, I won’t use it. All the stuff I already have in PDF 1.x (x

  7. Steve Nisbet said

    Hi folks
    my read of Open standards as far as the quiz is concerned is that PDF, FLASH and MS may well be seen as ‘standard’ – available all over the place, but they are certain not Open. Neither you nor I can contribute to their development, argue the toss over how they are implemented. I may well be currently able to edit or create using a number of different tools in these standards, but this lack of ability for me to contribute or rely on being able to do so in the future is what concerns me.

    Of the moment I stick to Open Office for document creation for instance, because the file format is utterly open and will remain so for the forseeable future.

  8. […] In my Christmas Quiz posting I asked which of the following are open standards: […]

  9. Many thanks for your responses to the Christmas Quiz. I have posted a response under the title “Christmas Quiz – An Answer

  10. Apparently PDF is about to become what I consider to be an actual open standard:

  11. Hi Phil – thanks for this information. There is a version of PDF which is an open standard, aimed at use in preservation (it requires non-standards fonts and images which use patented compression algorithms to be removed). However this looks like their entire PDF specification (for version 1.7) is being submitted to ISO. This is good news – although I don’t know how long the standardisation process may take. I also remember when Sun submitted Java to ISO’s standardisation process – and decided to withdraw it when Sun didn’t approve of various changes which ISO felt were needed. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

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