often with the hope that their products will become the standard (e.g., Microsoft's OLE). Sun's Java language is an interesting example of a company-sponsored effort that is becoming a standard through rapid expansion of licensing agreements.

The marketplace today often converges rapidly on one or a few standards, the standard for a high-density CD/ROM (and, more recently, digital versatile disks) being an excellent example.15 The music and entertainment community realized that competing standards would risk an expensive competitive battle. Other examples include, among many others, the widespread application of HTML.

Technical standards increase competition and product availability, while reducing price. The downside is that standards themselves evolve and can contribute to a kind of industry-driven obsolescence. Also, when multiple standards apply in the same area, buyers are forced to try to choose prospective winners and losers (recall the battle for consumer support of the Beta and VHS standards).

Within the scientific disciplines, there is increased attention to system interoperability in terms of both data and software. In the astronomy community, for example, the interchange of data has become fairly simple because of effective coordination in the United States and internationally. Radio astronomers developed a voluntary standard format for data interchange (the flexible image transport system; FITS) that was widely adopted in the astronomy community during the 1980s. This standard is maintained by an international committee, with support from several organizations, including NASA. There are related standard formats for planetary data, as well as a trend toward the development and adoption of a few comprehensive data analysis systems that could be used with a variety of types of astronomical data from different observatories and instruments and different subdisciplines. Sharing of analysis software and commercially developed computing tools among the different systems is encouraged.

Of course, the need for standards for effective data exchange is not confined to telecommunications, computer languages, and storage media. Even within a narrow discipline or subdiscipline, true data exchange with proper interpretation of numbers, symbols, words, and graphics depends on standards for data structures, database management systems, and even terminology.

Cooperation in Monitoring and Controlling of Network Activity

The rapid growth in networks over the last 15 years has led to the need for appropriate levels of cooperative monitoring and control. Initial ad hoc activity in developing protocols such as SNMP has given way to more elaborate standards and tools today. Authentication systems, retrieval systems, and networks can now account for specific activities of users and can support flexible billing systems. Public-key encryption technology is increasingly accepted as a means of protecting data and authenticating users. Such developments are being driven by needs associated with the network as a market place.

Version 6 of the Internet Protocol (developed by IETF and often referred to

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement