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10 signs that software is becoming more standardized

Have you noticed that certain features keep turning up in more and more software? Brien Posey has -- and he thinks such standardization is on the rise. See if you agree with his observations.

Over the last year or so, I've noticed several popular trends among software publishers -- trends that seem to lead toward increasingly standardized software. Of course, standardization can mean different things. In some cases, it simply means adhering to industry standards. But in other cases, it means that certain features are starting to become universal. I thought I'd share my observations about these trends and see what your thoughts are on the subject.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Web application compatibility

It seems that Microsoft has finally realized the benefits of making its software cross-browser compatible. SharePoint 2010 and Exchange 2010 have been developed using existing Web standards as opposed to code that will work only with Internet Explorer. The result is that Exchange 2010's Outlook WebApp feature and SharePoint 2010 run just as well on the latest versions of Firefox and Safari as they do on Internet Explorer. Microsoft has indicated that it plans to adhere to Web standards going forward.

2: Internet Explorer 9

Microsoft has stated from the beginning that Internet Explorer 9 is going to be geared toward improving the browser's support for Web standards. For example, HTML 5 features were first introduced in Internet Explorer 8 but were not completely supported. Internet Explorer 9 will fully support HTML 5 and will finally offer support for the <video> and <audio> tags.

So why is Microsoft suddenly focusing on Web standards? Internet Explorer has historically delivered an inconsistent browsing experience from one version to the next. As a result, every time a new version of IE is released, Web developers are forced to test their sites to make sure that they work correctly with the new browser. Now that Web standards are being put into place, Web sites should continue to work with new versions of Internet Explorer, so long as the sites adhere to the standards.

3: The universal pass-through port

The practice of encapsulating packets into the HTTP protocol and then sending them through TCP port 80 is nothing new. Various software publishers have been using this technique for years as a way of getting certain types of traffic through a firewall without having to open additional ports. Lately though, this method seems to have become the de facto standard way of doing things.

I recently attended Microsoft's TechEd conference in New Orleans. While I was there, I spent some time walking through the exhibit hall and talking with as many software vendors as I could. I was amazed by how many vendors had designed their wares to tunnel traffic through TCP port 80. It was something that almost everyone was doing.

That being the case, mark my words: It will be only a matter of time before today's firewalls are considered obsolete and more intelligent, application-layer firewalls become the norm.

4: File support

Another trend I'm beginning to notice is more broad support for standardized file types. For instance, for many years you had to have Adobe Acrobat Reader if you wanted to open a PDF file. Today, countless applications can read PDF files and almost as many can create them.

Although I am using PDF support as an example, it seems that nearly every application I've been using lately supports a huge number of file types. Take Microsoft Word 2010: It is natively capable of saving files in 17 formats and can import data stored in numerous other formats (spreadsheets, images, HTML code, etc.).

There was a time when file formats were mostly proprietary. Today though, all the popular file formats are open source. This has led software publishers to support most of the popular file types, so the type of file that data is stored in tends not to be an obstruction to using the data across a wide array of applications.

5: PowerShell

PowerShell has been a part of Windows Server for quite some time now, but in my opinion, it has only recently begun to go mainstream. Microsoft is starting to build the GUI interface for many of its server products on top of PowerShell. This means that for such products, any administrative function that can be performed through the GUI can also be performed from the command line using PowerShell.

Eventually, Microsoft will be designing all its server products to be based on PowerShell. The company has already begun requiring PowerShell cmdlets to be used (as opposed to the GUI) for some of the more advanced administrative functions in products such as Exchange Server and System Center Data Protection Manager.

6: Operating system features

Over time, certain file types have become a standard. For example, ZIP files are a standard way of compressing or archiving files and .ISO files are a standard format for CD images. As such standards have become accepted, Microsoft has gradually integrated support for them into Windows. Vista, for example, included native ZIP file support. Windows 7 has built-in support for burning disks based on ISO files. Now let's just hope that Microsoft eventually builds native PDF support into Windows just as it has included PDF support in Office 2010.

7: The Hypervisor

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years, you are no doubt aware of virtualization's ever-increasing popularity. One reason why server virtualization and desktop virtualization have become so popular is that they provide a way of standardizing the Windows operating system.

In a Hypervisor environment, the operating system does not communicate directly with the hardware. Instead, it communicates with a thin layer of code called the Hypervisor. The Hypervisor's job is to facilitate communications between the operating system and the hardware. By doing so, the operating system can be configured without regard to the underlying hardware. This makes it possible to move a virtual machine from one host machine to another without having to reconfigure the device drivers.

In the future, I expect all Windows operating systems to run within a virtual machine on top of a Hypervisor (Windows XP Mode in Windows 7 already does). Doing so would allow the operating system to run a much more standardized configuration than is possible for an OS that has to communicate directly with the underlying hardware.

8: Windows Mobile

Today, the vast majority of large organizations support users who rely on smartphones. The problem is that there is not yet a clear standard for managing mobile devices in the enterprise. Microsoft allows for mobile device management through System Center Mobile Device Manager or through Exchange Server, but these management tools work only with Windows Mobile devices. Likewise, Blackberry and Google offer their own proprietary management solutions.

Some organizations have found it to be increasingly difficult to support only one flavor of mobile device. As a result, third-party applications have begun to pop up that offer universal mobile device management capabilities. Such products have been developed by using the APIs provided by the individual mobile device vendors.

Right now, such third-party solutions are still relatively new. As time goes on, though, look for them to become the standard for managing mobile devices. I wouldn't be surprised to see Microsoft eventually provide management support for non-Windows devices just to avoid losing out to the competition.

9: Social networking

One of the hottest trends in in computing today is social networking. In some ways, it seems that social networking features are beginning to become standard components in the current generation of software. For example, the first time I saw a demo of SharePoint 2010, I was stunned by how much it reminded me of Facebook. Likewise, Microsoft has included a social networking connector in Outlook 2010, and Windows Phone 7 will offer full integration with the most popular social networking sites.

10: Automatic updates

One last trend I want to mention is that of automatic updates. Although automatic updates were once a "Microsoft thing," today you would be hard pressed to find a software vendor that does not include some sort of update mechanism in its wares.

Your take

Do you agree that these trends signal an increasing standardization of software? Have you noticed any other trends that seem to be pushing development in that direction?

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

7 comments
thilina.pr
thilina.pr

Good points mentioned. But as always its just a cycle. If there is something that is new (or not that new but gaining popularity eg: tablets), then there is a certain time period that is taken to standardize features among all vendors. Agreed that automatic updates gained popularity from Microsoft products. Great that it has been taken on by a lot of other products as well. It would be even better is there was a standard way of updating all applications installed via one interface. I believe this is something that is yet to come. Still not sure if the implementation of PowerShell is backward or forward thing but it sure does make automation of administrative tasks on servers a lot easier without the use of third party apps. OS standardization is great this means we don't have to install as many 3rd party apps as we used to. Hypervisor is becoming kind of the new 'OS' and VMs running on it are more like 'workspaces' which can be easily ported from machine to machine. Someone definitely needs to look at renaming that if not change the definition of an OS because an OS as per definition is to manage hardware etc. Hope IE does agree to standards as promised so that web developers all around will not have to redo their sites. Port 80 encapsulation is definitely a nightmare. It is high time that everyone has some kind of application layer filtering in place!

disasterboy.info
disasterboy.info

Maybe there is a trend there. I get the impression that wrapping application installers for remote deployment is less buggy than it used to be, though I havn't done that for a while. Could be a sign of developers complying with standards more. Hypervisor sounds like its blurring the boundaries of when at what is an Operating System. A Shell User Interface, a prohram interpreter and what NT Architecture would call the Hardware Abstraction Layer, could all become separate products in the future. I'm not sure thats a good thing, though. But like the other commenters I suspect we will just get cycles of standardization and propriety incompatibility as there are new software developments (what people seem to annoyingly call technologies or functionalities) Nice to have a relatively stable period though, if it really is one. Might be able to use computing to focus on productivity as much as work-arounds.

janitorman
janitorman

Microsoft's Automatic Updates are a HORROR. Turn them off! I've had and heard of numerous cases in the last year where the user did NOTHING and the computer did an "auto update" and then would NOT REBOOT! Junking your OS through an automatic update...is this their way of saying "oh you have to go buy a new computer?" Thanks, that happens again and I'm going to go hide in my Linux box. Social networking: Horrible waste of time. Can someone UNINVENT it please? Smartphones: DUMB. Hypervisor: that's an old joke. make your dog a SUPERVISOR and then he does NOTHING. File types: well, DOH. Powershell: oh you mean like DOS. FINALLY, a step back in the right direction from all this GUI stuff. Port 80. So, you're telling me, close it? Good idea, I hate new applications and the internet, in general. I much prefer a stand-alone word processor. (and this is not sarcasm, I mean it.) IE 9: after 10 years of JUNK they think they'll release a good one? Doubt it. Web application: Can we GET RID OF THE UNIVERSAL USE OF FLASH? I have it blocked, it's insecure, buggy, and useless. I really hate video and sound on my computer when text serves MUCH better. If you want video and sound, go watch television (I don't.)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

But this seems to be an article about MS finally supporting some standards as opposed to trying to invent new ones that only work with their products if not new version of their product. While of course I welcome that, this is one sign repeated ten times and ms did not invent autoupdates either. Port 80 tunneling by the way is nt agood thing, it's a f'ing nightmare!

BrucePurcell
BrucePurcell

All this means is that everyone is doing what everyone else does based on what everyone wants. It was the case 20 years ago and will be the case 20 years from now. It's like jelly in the stores. Everyone has strawberry and grape because those are the big sellers. So, there are 20 brands of strawberry and grape. After you get strawberry and grape on the shelf, leftover space goes to the other flavors. Everything on port 80 or even port 443 is worrisome though. Firewalls definitely have to be smarter now than just port level traffic.

john3347
john3347

I would be happy to help it pack itself for a one way journey to oblivion. Got something to say to someone? Email them! Telephone them! Etc.!

Ron_007
Ron_007

Standardization, especially built into the OS is a good thing. It is long past time that MS built basic anti-malware into the OS rather than optionally bolting it on (Windows Defender). But then again it is only skin deep. MS Office, the "Poster child" for "standardization" isn't very standardized. Office has been sold as a suite of programs with "standardized" user interfaces: menus and now ribbons. But even after 20 years of trying, they still haven't got it completely right, although 2010 is the closest to achieving it. - in the 2007 ribbon, "menu" customization has been limited to the QAT. In 2010(beta), it has been expanded, but still limited. I recreated tabs, but the recreation did not look like the default tab and there was no way for me to control the look. - I have found several commands that are not available - the ribbon introduced the itsy bitsy teeny tiny "arrows" to launch dialog boxes, why not simply use a button like any other command. - when I recreated "conditional" tabs, they did not display conditionally even if they had the same name - Not all features are translated to all of the apps. For example "Speak Text" in Word is called "Speak Cells" in Excel. Speak also appears in PowerPoint and OneNote, but not in Infopath Designer/Filler or Publisher. - When they replaced the menu with the "Ribbon Gooey" (GUI), they still left all of the old underlying dialog boxes. OK I understand that it may have been a lot of work to fix in 2007, but they had time to do it for the 2010 version. - The 2010 File tab, Options button, displays a new pane based dialog that was based on the the Menu Tools / Options dialog. I like it, but ... The old dialog had 11 tabs that have been "squashed" into 7 options, even though the new dialog has lot more room to spread things out. - take a look at Open and Save As dialog boxes. they are similar but not consistent. Save As has a "Hide Folders" button, Open doesn't, - why do all color features, ie Font colors, borders, backgrounds support "unlimited" colors, EXCEPT for "Highlight", which is still limited to 15 EGA colors? - The drop down list of Text Effect customization options displayed by clicking on the Text Effect control on the Home ribbon has 4 customizable attributes (as seen in screen cap on the left. Home tab / Font group / Font dialog launcher button / (new) Text Effects button / displays the new Format Text Effects dialog. This dialog has 2 more options, "Text Fill" and "3-D Format". Also, the attributes have different names in the 2 locations ie "Outline" vs "Text Outline" (( prefer the 2nd one) and "Glow" vs "Glow and Soft Edges" (again I prefer the second one). - some of the dialog boxes and galleries are fixed size only, some are resizable in one direction, some in two directions. The indicators to identify when a dialog is resizable are also inconsistent. I have lots more...