have released updated versions of their standards and I no longer work in an area where I get them free, haven't for over a decade. Thus I don't have the current standards to reference and I threw out all my old stuff years ago due to having to winnow papers and the like after a divorce and having to move house a few times in short time periods. However, wikipedia has some of the stuff that you can look at; here's some links about the ITU and some of the ISOs - over the years the number of bodies involved has grown and it's hard to keep up with them if you aren't actively involved any more.
One of the significant start points with the various IT standards is the Request for Comments - but there were many other sources, mostly committees of different sorts.
Another wiki page that may help you is the one on the BIOS
In the days of the 286 / 386 / and 486 chips we used system with the ISA design, which is still the basis for most modern PCs.
The standards for the ISA motherboards in the late 1980s included in the BIOS the commands to handle the basic graphics and keyboard signals, they did have some basic commands for the hard drives as well but nothing to run a mouse or a printer or a modem etc. When you built a system you noted on the information on the hard drive about the number of sectors and platters and the size and this data was entered into the BIOS, along with a lot of other parameters on the system and its hardware - - this was the days of MB sized HDDs, seriel keyboard and mouse. Once the system was built you installed MS-DOS or a similar OS. After DOS you loaded a program called Amouse so the mouse would work, you also loaded software to allow the sound card, the cd-rom, and the more advanced actions of the graphics card to work. Then you went in and made required adjustments to files like config.sys and autoexec.bat to get the best out of the system in the way the OS and the hardware interfaced.
As the years passed the standards were improved and extended and so were the items included in the BIOS - commands for the mouse and cd-roms added, and the changes to EIDE allowed the inclusion of a single set of commands for running the hard drives.
A lot has changed since then, but the basic stuff is still there and used. Classic examples are TCP, IP, FTP, Telnet, SMTP, ASCII, POP, Ethernet, ICMP, NTP, IMAP, IRC, DHCP and are still heavily used today. All of these,and many others, have command sets of the signals on how they're to work. Many have been extended over the years, but the initial baseline stuff is still there as they were originally created. An example of the types of commands in the signals is in the list in the wiki page on ASCII:
The section on ASCII Control Characters has a list of the commands and their binary code to do things like carriage feed, start transmission, end transmission, etc. Similar sets of commands exist for each type of peripheral, the International Industry Standard set them out so that everyone would be working off the same page and use the exact same signals for relevant commands - some examples would be for a printer to start printing, feed a line, feed a page, stop printing, eject a page, etc. The idea behind the concept was to reduce the amount of work the IS had to do in translating commands between the programs and the hardware, as well as making it possible to have all the programs and hardware using the same commands and thus totally interchangeable.
As hardware improves new commands etc are added to the standards and new versions issued, and new standards are also issued as they need to be. That's why we have standards for PCI, PCI-E, SATA, USB 1.0 and USB 2. etc, and HTML 1 through to HTML 5 as a few examples.
Any software and hardware that's made to use the standards will work perfectly with any other software or hardware made to the standards without the need for drivers as they all speak the same command instructions.
The incompatibilities I mention that Microsoft created are those that relate to certain instruction commands within Windows. They have changed those commands at different times and thus made hardware and software designed to work with one version not work with the other versions. That's why you have different hardware drivers for Win 9x to Win 2000/XP to Win Vista / 7 / 8.
Now about using old software made to the Industry Standards on a modern OS made to the Industry Standards. Although I frequently dump old books and papers, I rarely toss out old software. Back in 1996 when I was doing a college course about Unix and Linux I was given a game that ran on Red Hat at that time. The last time I played it was back in 2008 when I moved house and found it during the move. I loaded it onto Ubuntu 8.04 and it worked perfectly well. I have a Minolta colour laser printer I bought back in 1995/6; over the years I've plugged it into an old Pentium 1 running Win 3.11 on DOS 6.2 and it just worked, no driver needed. I've plugged it into systems using Red Hat, Debian, SuSe, Ubuntu, SimplyMEPIS Linux, Free BSD, Zorin Linux and it just worked without any extra software needed. However it will NOT work on Win 2000 / XP or Win Vista as there are no drivers for it, and I have drivers to make it Work on Win 9x.
Also Apple do a little of this sort of things with regards to some of their hardware too.
I've been working with various types of computers in various guises since I bought a Commodore 64 back in the 1970s - some as a hobby and some as paid employment - they've included mainframes, minicomputers, microcomputer which later became known as PCs. In some jobs I worked with the International Standards Organisations, and others I just got their paperwork as part of the job. Much of the information I've learned over the years has changed, and much is still the same. I've also done a lot of work outside the IT industry too. I've seen a lot of developments over the years and I shudder at the amount of the history of computing that's under attack for various political reasons and how much has not been fully documented. A lot of the situation today arises out of decisions made back in the mid 1990s and few know about the history behind them due to those involved retiring or dying.
It's this longevity perspective that lets me see and comment on a lot of things that people are not aware of. Things like Microsoft saying that Windows 8 has greatly improved security and has many major improvements over everyone else, something they said about Win 7, Vista, Win XP SP3, Win XP, Win 2000, Win 98SE and Win 98. I see there are only few choices that can be made from that, either:
1. Microsoft Windows is now the most secure OS in the world - that's been proven wrong; or
2. Windows 95 was so unsecure it's not funny and all the versions since then have worked to fix all those issues; evidence is they have improved but are still well behind everyone else; or
3. Microsoft regular lie about security and improvements as they don't really care about anything beyond selling more copies of their software, both Windows and their applications.
The evidence to date is the third choice. Microsoft has been improving security since 1998 they claim. Yet their security system are not yet up to the standards that Unix, Linux, and Mac have had since 1994 or before. One has to wonder why they can't do what everyone else can do. Arrgh, I best leave it there before this becomes a thesis.
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