Standardize This! 10 Technology Messes That Need Fixing

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6. Universal Avatars

No, not the movie with the blue-skinned space cats. As we move into Web 3D, each of us will need a single virtual persona that can do battle in World of Warcraft, wander the lonely streets of Second Life, hang out (in two dimensions) on Facebook, and do anything else that requires a digital doppelgänger.

Several companies and groups--including IBM, Linden Lab, Multiverse, and the Web3D consortium--are working on standards that would allow online avatars to travel between virtual worlds; however, no univatars have received passports yet. Give me the metaverse, and give it to me now.

7. Region-Free DVDs and Blu-ray Discs

Planning to cross the pond with a Blu-ray disc of Jennifer's Body or Ice Age 3? You might as well leave them at home; they'll play only on machines sold for the U.S. market. In fact, most DVDs and about one in three Blu-ray discs are designed to play only on machines in the geographical region where they were sold. Regional encoding: Let's party like it's 1997.

The reason, as usual, is money: Studios want to be able to charge higher prices for their discs in certain parts of the world without being undercut by imports from places where they sell them for less. As we move away from attaching entertainment to molecules and toward delivering it via bits, this too shall pass.

8. Secure Security Software

Everybody knows what a word processor and a spreadsheet are supposed to look like. But what about a firewall, or antispyware software? Is that jumble-o-bits you just downloaded and installed protecting your computer, or is it malware in disguise?

"You can buy a $5 padlock at your local hardware store and count on it to secure your garden shed, because padlocks are manufactured to standards," observes Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO of antimalware firm Comodo and founder of the Common Computing Security Standards Forum.

But there's no padlock equivalent for PCs. "Anybody can label any software 'firewall' or 'antivirus' and convince people to install it on their computers," Abdulhayoglu says.

The CCSS Forum is working to establish baselines for features and performance in security software, as well as ways to develop objective ways to distinguish legitimate security vendors from bad guys--kind of a Good PC-keeping Seal of Approval. So far, however, category heavyweights like McAfee and Symantec have not signed on.

9. IM Clients That Speak the Same Language

One VoIP service can reach pretty much any other phone service, thanks to standards such as the SIP and H.323 protocols. But if you want to send a message from Skype to AIM, Windows Messenger, or Google Talk, you might as well use carrier pigeons.

Third-party apps like Trillian Astra support multiple IM clients, but they give you limited access to the clients' features and they require frequent upgrading. People have been talking about solving this problem for more than a decade. Can't we all just agree to agree?

10. One Cell Network to Rule Them All

Imagine there's no telecom; it's easy if you try. No AT&T hell below us; above us only sky. Imagine endless spectrum, open to any device (oooh oooh, ooh-hoo-woo).

Yes, we are dreamers, but we're not the only ones. Back in January 2008, when Google bid on the old analog TV spectrum at the FCC's auctions, many people hoped the search giant would solve the headaches caused by rival cell technologies and control-freak telecoms by offering cheap, open, ubiquitous radio spectrum.

But Verizon and AT&T won most of those auctions, and an open cellular network has yet to emerge. We still hold out hope, though, that one day they'll join us--and the world will speak as one.

When not whining about things he can't have, Contributing Editor Dan Tynan tends his snark garden at his award-winning geek humor site, eSarcasm. (Note: Awards still pending.)

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