Charles Petzold

Entrenched Standards

December 9, 2005
More Snow in Roscoe, NY

The computer industry has always been subject to upheavals in standards, with new standards replacing old standards and everyone hoping for backward compatibility.

In the rest of the world, some standards are so entrenched that they take many years to replace. I've recently been reading The Eustace Diamonds, the third of Anthony Trollope's six Palliser Novels (a.k.a., "political novels"). Future fictional Prime Minister Plantagenet Palliser doesn't have much of a role in this novel, but in a humorous passage in Chapter 47 he and his wife throw a party not entirely for social reasons. (I've broken this passage into paragraphs to make it easier to read online.)

That was published in 1873. Great Britain didn't make the switch to decimal coinage until 1971, and by that time the farthing (1/4 of a penny) had ceased to be legal tender. Several pages on the switch to decimal coinage discuss the extensive preparation and publicity campaign required for the change — perhaps even rivaling the compatibility testing done for new versions of Windows.