First of all, I'd like to say that the concept of open system can be
found not only in computing world, but in almost every field of activity.
What is an open system? Generally, an open system is an complex system
built on many components, which interacts one with others through some
communication protocols. The function that the system implements must have all
the parameters - if any - tunable, and the system must be capable to communicate
with other systems. Also, the specifications of the system and the
corresponding communication protocols must be described in a freely available
The standardization have an essential role in the open system's
existance: it allows to work in it's interior, which means that the different
components could conlucrate, and to communicate with the exterior in a well
defined manner. So, the open systems implies the existance of some standards,
but the presence of a standard does not necessarly implies the fact that we are
dealing with an open system.
The history of computing world shown us that the big companies' tendence
was and still is to monopolize the market and to impose proprietary systems and
architectures. But we all know that - at least in computing world, the
monopol is inconceivable.
The manufacturers have also the tendence to use the "open" and "open
system" terms for the products they promote.
In many cases, the standardization it's nothing but a deceive imposed by
the big companies trying to impose a monopol. There are, of course, some
exceptions. A positive example is the NFS (Network File System) standard,
created and supported by SUN Microsystems.
We should try to compare the "standards" created by Microsoft - for
example (as MFC or DDE) -, with an open standard, such as one in the RFC series
(which means "Request For Comments") - let's say ftp or telnet. The big
difference between these ones is that the first one is imposed, and the
second one is proposed.
The "free software" (which means freely distributable software) phenomena
is a reality. As a proof is the growing popularity of the Linux operating
system. The Linux building project is one of the biggest ones that has been done
in the history. It was done by hundreds of programmers all over the world, and
have now couple millions of users. The role the Internet had in this project
development is obvious. From an global point of view, the Internet is nothing
but a huge open system.
I think the The Free Software Foundation and the "free software" movement
in generally will have an important contribution to the evolution and imposal
of open systems. The standards created in free software world are not controlled
by any organisation, but generally speaking this world is producing much more
open systems than the companies that creates proprietary software - mainly
because it answers much quicker at the users' demands.
Following the open system model, the systems can be built on many small
components, instead of building monolithts, which are difficult to change and
with minimal extension capabilities. The different components can be provided
by different manufacturers. But this require interoperability between
components, and the interoperability leads to interdependence. We saw that the
big companies' tendence is to create proprietary systems. Will this companies
agree to follow some standards, instead of imposing their own ones?
The interoperability is definitely the key of open systems. Every complex
system require the ability of component objects to operate as a whole system.
The components must conlucrate and efficiently communicate one with others.
We are confident that the movement from monolithic systems ("black
boxes") towards open systems will accelerate in the future.