Yesterday was one of those rare evenings that I sat down and flicked through some TV channels. But I could not just switch on: our area in the UK has switched from analogue to digital terrestrial TV and my digital receivers all needed retuning; I also needed to adjust the aerial in my loft.

That is the trouble with standards: it is a huge nuisance when they are changed, and that better not happen too often.

After complying with the new standard, I happened across a programme on the history of household appliances. And in it was a section on the introduction of the electric cooker / hob. In the early days (before 1930), there was no standard for electricity supply in the UK. Electric cooker manufacturers were very hesitant because each cooker had to be specially adapted to the particular supply conditions in the customers’ home. And that made them expensive to buy and to own. In those days, modern electric cooking was unable to replace the less attractive, arguably less safe, gas based appliance. Until the establishment of supply standards (in the UK we choose 240 Volts at 50 Hertz) gas ruled.  

That is the beauty of standards: they create a level playing field on which innovation and technology adoption can and will flourish.

Initiatives such as OpenStack and standardization via the DMTF will eventually lead to cloud computing standards, as Shishir points out in his blog. But it will take time, because the vested interests of the established infrastructure providers outweigh the cost of standardization, often for much longer than impatient innovators would want. To those of you who have read Nicolas Carr’s The Big Switch, or those who listened to Richard Holway before him in 2002 (see this summary), this is hardly news. But it is nice to see the pros and cons of standards come together in one evening, and in a way that connected my work and play!