Re: Inventor File Format [ (Frank Boosman)] (fwd)

Brian Behlendorf (
Wed, 22 Jun 1994 16:06:25 -0700 (PDT)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 22 Jun 94 12:18:02 -0800
From: (Frank Boosman)
Subject: Re: Inventor file format

Mark Waks writes:

>Maybe. The real issue is, what commercial tack is SGI taking with
>Inventor? There are two major approaches to using "standards", and
>which they are taking is likely to determine how enthused they get
>about Inventor getting used for VRML.
>The first tack is pushing a "standard", but trying to lock up the tools
>market by making sure you own that standard lock, stock, and barrel. In
>this model, you may not make all the tools yourself, but you make sure
>that anyone else making tools based on your format is paying you a fee
>to do so. Adobe Postscript is a good example.
>The second tack is to sincerely push the standard as an open one, but
>make sure that you're ahead of the learning curve. Other people may
>be developing tools based on the standard, but you make sure that you
>know how to use the standard better than anyone else, and your tools
>are always a little better than the other guy's. In this model, you
>push the standard very, very hard, while also pushing your tools for

Just to clarify this point: Adobe PostScript is *not* an example of
standard creation in which "anyone else making tools based on your format
is paying you a fee to do so." First, anyone can create applications which
generate PostScript without paying a fee--in fact, Adobe encourages this.
Second, anyone can create their own PostScript interpreter without paying a
fee--but Adobe *doesn't* encourage this. Adobe would rather license its
interpreter to you. Nevertheless, many non-Adobe interpreters exist,
including GhostScript.

The history of "ownership" of the PostScript specification--the "Red
book"--is complex, but essentially, Adobe's claim is that PostScript is an
open standard which anyone is free to implement. Adobe makes money by
trying to have the best implementation on the market. Strictly speaking,
therefore, to use your taxonomy, PostScript is an example of the second
type of standard.

[In reality, given Adobe's dominance of the PostScript market, and given
their de facto control over its evolution, PostScript lies somewhere
between the two models described above.]

Is there a lesson here for VRML? Not directly. However, I think it would
behoove those who create the VRML specification to look for technology
donations, rather than simply utilize existing specifications and rely on
the good will of those who created the specifications. I'm hearing rumors
that MPEG is plagued by claims from companies who helped create it that
they own pieces of it, and are therefore entitled to royalties on its use.
This could be a mess that takes years to clear out. If companies wish to
contribute specifications or actual technologies, we should ensure that the
terms of these donations are explicit.

-- Frank Boosman
Virtus Corporation
Cary, NC