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Design By Cartel

 
 
Lawrence D'Oliveiro
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      01-06-2009
Everybody's heard of "Design By Committee", where a bunch of representatives
from different groups get together to put together a specification for
something that's agreeable to everybody. Frequently the result is something
so complex, unwieldy and obtuse, that it gives reasonably intelligent
people the screaming heebie-jeebies just to look at it. Sometimes, it's
even a flop. Other times, it ends up being a millstone around the neck of
everybody who has to use or implement the spec.

I've come across something even worse: it's "Design By Cartel". This is
where the members of the committee stand to profit from licensing patents
related to the spec. This means that the design process turns into a
jostling match for everybody to push as much of their own patented
technologies into the final spec as they can.

It appears this is what happened to some extent with the DVD-Video spec
<http://www.burnworld.com/dvd/primer/index.htm>. I've been trying to find
publicly-available information there is about it, as part of making sense
of the dvdauthor source code, and what I've found is an amazing number of
complications: two different clock references (one 27MHz and one 90kHz),
two different places to store button colour information, two different ways
to represent audio streams, oh, and watch out what happens to button
coordinates when widescreen footage is being shown letterboxed on a 4:3
screen--it's just mind-boggling.

I guess they were lucky that DVD-Video succeeded as well as it did. I think
we're seeing the same sort of process with HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, only the
promoters of those formats haven't been quite so lucky.
 
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