A de facto standard is a custom, convention, product, or system that has achieved a dominant position by public acceptance or market forces (such as early entrance to the market).De facto is a Latin phrase meaning “concerning the fact” or “in practice”.
Technical standards are usually voluntary, like ISO 9000 requirements, but may be obligatory, enforced by government norms, like drinking water quality requirements. The term “de factostandard” is used for both: to contrast obligatory standards (also known as “de jure standards”); or to express a dominant standard, when there are more than one proposed standard for the same use.
In social sciences, a voluntary standard that is also a de facto standard, is a typical solution to a coordination problem. The choice of a de facto standard is the better choice for situations in which all parties can realize mutual gains, but only by making mutually consistent decisions. In contrast, a enforced “de jure standard” is a solution to the prisoner’s problem.
Well-known and illustrative examples.
Examples of “de facto and de jure standards”:
- with consolidation by tradition of use:
- The driver’s seat side in a country. It starts as a user/industry preference, turning a local tradition then a traffic code local norm.
- The QWERTY system was one of several options for the layout of letters on typewriter (and later keyboard) keys. It was developed to prevent adjacent keys from jamming on early and later mechanical typewriters, often attributed to the typist’s speed. It became a de facto standard because it was used on the most commercially successful early typewriters, and once people had learned the QWERTY layout they did not want to re-learn a different system.
- Digital music players use format: MP3 (a non-free audio lossy format) starts as an alternative to CD WAV (lossless format) for Internet music distribution, then replace it — now supported by almost all music players, audio transport, audio storage and noncommercial media. 1990s showed people accept and prefer lossy compression (with smart psychoacoustics loss and more than 10 times smaller files), than lossless. In the late 2000s decade, even if preference by better quality (less lossy), the use of MP3 was a tradition. WAV and MP3 are also “de jure ISO formats”.
- with consolidation by uniqueness and efficiency:
- HTML (computer file format) started as “de facto (1993-1995) and, early, turns de jure” standard (1995-today).
- PDF (computer file format) was first published in 1993 by Adobe. Adobe internal standards were part of its software quality systems, but they were neither published nor coordinated by a standards body. With the Acrobat Reader program available for free, and continued support of the format, PDF eventually became the de facto standard for printable web documents and e-books. In 2005, PDF/A became a de jure standard as ISO 19005-1:2005. As of 2007, PDF 1.7 is under development as ISO/DIS 32000.
Examples of “long time de facto and never de jure standards” (for computer file formats):
- AutoCAD DXF: a de facto ASCII format for import and export of CAD drawings and fragments in the 1980s and 1990s. In the 2000s, XML based standards emerged as de factostandards.
- Microsoft Word DOC (over all other old PC word processors): one of the best known de facto standards. Due to the market dominance of Word, it is supported by all office applications that intend to compete with it, typically by reverse engineering the undocumented file format. Microsoft has repeatedly internally changed the file specification between versions of Word to suit their own needs, while continuing to reuse the same file extension identifier for different versions.
- The 1/2-inch (12.7 mm) spacing of the rollers in a bicycle chain.
- Buttonholes on the left and buttons on the right side of men’s shirts, and vice versa for women’s shirts.
- The IBM Personal Computer format, which used MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows operating systems, gained a large share of the personal computer market. Competing products like the Rainbow 100 were eventually withdrawn.
- Interpreted programming languages such as PHP that have multiple implementations tend to also have a de facto standard. In PHP’s case the de facto standard is the binaries available from php.net, rather than the Phalanger implementation for example.
- Alternating current (Tesla’s) over Direct current (Edison’s): see War of Currents.
- VHS over Betamax (see videotape format war): when the VHS format for videotape recording was introduced, other recording formats were already available in the market. Regardless of whether Betamax was superior from a technical point of view or not, the VHS format won the format war due to superior marketing tactics by its proponents. The market could not support two competing formats; VHS became the de facto standard and Betamax was eventually withdrawn.
- Blu-ray Disc over HD DVD (see high definition optical disc format war).
Examples of standards that are “in dispute” for turns de facto:
- OpenOffice‘s OpenDocument format (a de facto standard for UNIX users) vs Microsoft’s Office Open XML format (a de facto standard for MS-Windows users).
- Adobe Flash vs Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), for vector graphics web page animations.
- ^ a b Edna Ullmann-Margalit: The Emergence of Norms, Oxford Un. Press, 1977. (or Clarendon Press 1978)
- ^ QWERTY
- ^ ISO 19005-1:2005 – Document management – Electronic document file format for long-term preservation – Part 1: Use of PDF 1.4 (PDF/A-1)
- ^ ISO/DIS 32000 – Document management – Portable document format – PDF 1.7
- ^ Adobe – Release PDF for Industry Standardization FAQ