This primer is part of a series of primers on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) from IOSN serving as introductory documents to FOSS in general, as well as covering particular topic areas that are deemed important to FOSS such as open standards. Open standards are not the same as FOSS. However, like FOSS, they can minimize the possibility of technology and vendor lock-ins and level the playing field. They can also play an important role in promoting the interoperability of FOSS and proprietary software and this is crucial in the current, mixed Information technology (IT) environment. Being a primer in the IOSN FOSS series, the issues concerning open standards are approached from the FOSS and software perspectives and emphasis is given to the relationship that some of these standards have with FOSS.
The definition of an open standard has generated much controversy with regard to whether it should contain patents licensed under reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) terms. The FOSS community, in general, is of the view that such RAND-encumbered standards should not be considered as open standards but most of the standards development organizations and bodies do accept patents available under RAND terms in their standards. The primer has incorporated definitions of open standards from both sides and also put into perspective the minimal characteristics that an open standard should have.
It is hoped that this primer will provide the reader with a better understanding as to why open standards are important and how they can complement FOSS in fostering a more open IT environment. As users and consumers, the readers of this primer should demand from their software, conformance to open standards as far as possible. In addition to promoting interoperability and making more choices available, this will make it easier for FOSS to co-exist and take root in environments filled with proprietary software.