What’s a Standard, Daddy?

When previous generations of children grew old enough, they asked hard, embarrassing questions of their parents about, well, you know.

I assume William H. Gates III will be more 21st century than that. But there’s still one nasty question his little girl might ask.

“Daddy, what’s a standard?”

“Well, it’s what most people use. It’s the basic building block of all the neat things we can put on top of it.”

“But where do standards come from?”

“Harrumph. Well, they come from companies competing with each other. Each company offers its own standard and the marketplace decides which innovation to accept.”

“That’s not what my dolly told me.” (She pushes a plush penguin doll in daddy’s face.)

“Where did you get that thing?”

“A friend gave it to me at school. He gave one to all the children. He said standards are like that, that they’re like presents. I like presents.”

(Gates reaches for the doll, but she sees a look in his face and pulls it back.)

“Now, dear, there are presents, and there are presents. You know we’ve taught you not to take presents from strangers. There might be viruses on them. They might be impossible to fix. Good standards come from stores. Remember those wooden nesting dolls I got you? You buy the doll on the outside, and on the inside are presents and presents and more presents.” (He grabs for the penguin.)

“Give me back my Linus! My friend said you wouldn’t like it, and he was right. I showed him my nesting dolls. He said they were bad. He called them a bundle. He said standards should be free!” (Gates gets quite red in the face at this.) “My friend said a real standard is something everyone can have, and everyone can improve. I can dress Linus any way I want, even draw on him, and my friends can play with him, too. They can’t really play with my nesting dolls.”

“But your nesting dolls are safe. They all work together. They’re a complete play system.”

“My friend called them dependent. They only work if you have them all, and they only work in one way. He said Linus can play all games, and everyone can play together. And he said no one has to pay for Linus. He’s free. He’s open source.”

(Gates takes the doll away. The little girl cries.)

“I’m sorry, but I won’t have that kind of talk in this house. That’s not innovation. That’s…that’s communism! Now, now, stop crying. Daddy will get you a pony. Would you like a pony?”

“Uh, uh. My friend said you’d do that. He called you popiety!”

“Proprietary?”

“Yes, popiety.”

“Well maybe I am, but that’s the only way we can protect innovation, and the freedom to innovate we all depend upon. I’m afraid you won’t be seeing that friend any more. What was his name?”

“I don’t remember, but I remember he had a bunch of friends.”

“Well, friends can be bought. Or we can get you new friends. And when everyone is using my new nesting dolls, he’ll have to throw out that penguin or be left on his own.”

“Like little Stevie and that Apple he tried to give the teacher? Or Jimmy and Marc and that looking glass they brought to school one day? You sure showed them, Daddy. You copied all their best features, put them inside your nesting dolls, and made them cry. I love you, daddy.”

(Gates blushes and hugs his little girl.) “Well, children must be protected.”

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