In late 2004, we had quite a kerfuffle where I work, trying to decide what to do about Firefox. For sure it wasn’t the standard browser. For sure, if we blocked its use, it would not become the standard browser. So like everyone else we ummed and aahed, I spoke to my boss, and we agreed the following:
We would not support Firefox. What this meant was that no application would need to change as a result of Firefox being introduced. What this meant was that if anything went wrong, the “user” could not call up the support department and get it fixed. Firefox was unsupported.
We would not ban Firefox. People would be allowed to download Firefox, but, as per the no-support statement, they could not divert any resources towards making applications work in Firefox.
We would keep a careful eye on Firefox, reviewing matters and concerns over time. And with learning.
That’s what we decided.
Over time, as Firefox grew in popularity, it got better. The market made it better. The community made it better. Soon, I guess, it will become a standard. [And in the meantime, I will continue to play with Flock :-) ]
I’ve been thinking about this ever since that day in October 2004. And I wondered.
I wondered about standards-agnosticism. Could we start building systems that will work regardless of the “standards” in place, that are “unsupported”, that need minimal tweaking of the existing systems base, that are selected by the consumer, that are improved upon by the community, that stabilise through usage?
When Open Source meets the Beta mindset, maybe that’s what will happen. We will have more and more unsupported apps, because they work. And they improve. And they stabilise. And they don’t need supporting.
I wonder. There’s something peculiarly dissatisfying about having to change everything just in order to make one thing work. And knowing it won’t work anyway, that all we are doing is pandering to higher support costs, more lock-in points, more expensive ways of freeing up our own data.
Are standards just a euphemism for Officially Sanctioned Lock-ins?