Why open standards are more important than open source

I met Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, a few years ago at a Sun-sponsored press party (their skewers were delicious). He talked about open standards that evening and sure enough a few months later he blogged about open standards being more important than open code. Many GPL junkies attacked him for that beliefs, but over and over again I, the consumer, I pay the price of products not following standards rather than ever needing the source code of any driver or firmware.

You see, last week we were sent at OSNews a 17″ Dell PAL/NTSC HDTV for a review. We decided to send it to Thom in the Netherlands to write the review, as all of us here had big TVs already. Thom received the TV earlier today only to find out that his PAL system was not supported by the TV. Sure, when you plugin a DVD player or a game console, it works fine in PAL. But region-specific RF cable/over-the-air PAL does not work (it works without sound and in B&W only). Thom believes that if he could flash the monitor’s firmware to the european version of the TV he would be able to access the PAL menu (currently disabled) in the TV. But my JBQ believes that it’s much more than a software issue. To support all kinds of North African and European versions of PAL you need more chips inside the monitor.

In my opinion, the problem is not with the monitor. Dell did what any company would have done to save that extra $2 by not including non-essential hardware in it. If all countries instead had followed the same PAL system (or NTSC, or SECAM) there would not have been such problems in the first place. Sure, some countries had to modify their PAL version in order to get compatibility with their older, B&W PAL signal from the ’60s (so people would not had to buy new TVs), but man, sometimes someone has to take a hard decisions sometimes in order to ensure future compatibility with other countries, a measure that would eventually create cheaper products.

8 Comments »

Oliver Herold wrote on February 17th, 2007 at 2:15 AM PST:

>Many GPL junkies attacked him for that beliefs, but over and over again I, the consumer, I pay the price of products not following standards rather than ever needing the source code of any driver or firmware.

Both of it is important. You can certainly live with an open standard in a mono-culture (like Windows, MacOS), but you cannot live in freedom (no GPL freedom, real freedom) with just open standards. You would certainly tell me about your TV and so on – but we aren’t in the 80s anymore. Every multimedia device has a firmware nowadays, can be attached to a computer and so on – so the attitude “open standards are more important” is some sort of no-brainer imo. The mere customer has advantages in both areas. Btw. the mere customer isn’t a moron.
I don’t need to see the source-code, but I do know why it’s important for security, quality and interoperability. The mere faith in something like closed-source, isn’t something to cope with in reality.
So open standards is just one side of the coin.


Chris Craig wrote on February 17th, 2007 at 4:32 AM PST:

It seems to me you don’t want “open” standards, but “common” standards.
The reason why there are so many different standards is the same reason why there are so many different types of plug points, transmissions, programming libraries, etc.


Thom Holwerda wrote on February 17th, 2007 at 5:01 AM PST:

I’m still so pissed off about this.


mikesum32 wrote on February 17th, 2007 at 10:06 AM PST:

But they are open standards. That’s the catch, which open standard(s) do you want to support ? Maybe Dell needs to upgrade the product description, clarify things, or fix the tuner and firmware. Sending a North American tv to Europe is just asking for trouble.

Good luck with the firmware fix.

Dell TVs: Technically capable of displaying 25 fps.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on February 17th, 2007 at 10:14 AM PST:

>But they are open standards.

Yes, but they are useless if no one is following them. If all the world had the same frequencies for 3G, GSM, analog and digital TV etc, things would have been much better for the average consumer. Personally, I am very unhappy about DVD region coding too, which is pretty stupid IMO.

>Sending a North American tv to Europe is just asking for trouble.

When DELL says that it has a “PAL and NTSC tuner” with no other clarification, I expect it to work in both continents.


mikesum32 wrote on February 17th, 2007 at 10:56 AM PST:

DVD region coding is total bullshit. Artificial limitations on technology rarely work, just look at any DRM. CSS cracked via DeCSS, cd protection bypassed with the “shift key” blu-ray, hd-dvd cracked, Mac OS X runs on a pc, Itunes DRM broken more than once, X-Box hacked to run linux, my dvd drive flashed to be region free.

They just need to give up already with movie and music drm. Anyone who wants to pirate a movie will download it or buy it for a lower price from Chinatown or copy it themselves from a rental. Anyone who wants free music will download it, get it from a friend, or record it off of the radio. Paying customers still pay.

DVD region codes just stop technologically foolish people from buying foreign films, or people in the USA sending movies to their friends in Europe, and doesn’t touch local piracy or manufactured bootlegs.

I buy my music used and save a bunch of money. I’m not paying 20 dollars for a new cd, I remember when they were around 12. I know this great pawn shop where they are 1 dollar.

I had a black and white problem with an S-Video cable and a cable box hooked to my All-in-Wonder Radeon. I ended up using a single rca cable, I think. It’s been a while. Maybe Thom could call Dell ?

Dell TVs: Technically capable of displaying 25 fps*

*No sound or color


memson wrote on February 19th, 2007 at 8:17 AM PST:

It’s probably PAL-I, the UK PAL standard. The usual European PAL (M?) standard (which Germany uses, for example) doesn not work in the UK – found this out trying to get a TV tuner card to work once. Unless you select PAL-I in the UK, you get no sound and the picture is unstable. Sounds not unlike what Thom is experiencing. He could always send it to me in the UK for me to confirm this ;-)

The probalem with PAL was that too many countries used differing TV standards in the first place! Also, TV standards were tied to silly things like refresh rates synced by the speed your electricity was clocked at. So in the US, you use 60Hz as the frequency of your AC current, but in Europe we use 50Hz. In Brasil, they use PAL, but clocked at 60Hz.

One other thought – Thom, are you 100% sure you are in PAL mode? NTSC will play happily sync at 60Hz on my UK TV, but we lose the colour signal because it is synced differently. I get sound and picture, just no colour. Maybe you’re seeing the PAL compatible carrier for the B&W signal, but have no sound because the European PAL’s sound standard isn’t the same as the UK one?


memson wrote on February 19th, 2007 at 8:19 AM PST:

Oh, and to define “no sound”, we get just static, which many modern TV’s translate to “no sound” and filter out.


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