Friday, November 25, 2016

Specification of pronunciation - GIF, and PNG

In our corporate lives, many of us have to spend time reading standards, and if we're not reading standards, we're at least adhering to them in some way. For example, right now I am using a keyboard that works with an operating system, an application (Blogger), and eventually a browser or email program (whatever one you're using to read this) - and all of them are familiar with one or more character formats, such as ASCII or Unicode. If my operating system suddenly decided to support some other character format, the whole thing would fall apart.

Yes, specifications are important.

But when reading this specification, I was struck by a particular section.


PNG is pronounced "ping"

Now why, oh why, would a specification make a big deal about how an acronym is pronounced?

Two reasons.

First, let me quote from the beginning of the specification:

The PNG format provides a portable, legally unencumbered, well-compressed, well-specified standard for lossless bitmapped image files.

Although the initial motivation for developing PNG was to replace GIF, the design provides some useful new features not available in GIF, with minimal cost to developers.

Ah, GIF. The sordid tale of GIF, LZW, CompuServe, Unisys, patents, and fees has been told many times. Check this or this or this for further information. All of this ended over a decade ago, however, so it's not of real concern.

But there's one concern about GIF that remains to this day - I saw it erupt on Facebook earlier this week. The reason that the creators of PNG specified its pronunciation is because the pronunciation of GIF spawned wars that even a group of patent attorneys couldn't resolve. Take this video that shows what happened when Steve Wilhite of CompuServe fame won a Webby Award.

Yet hard G people still fight the fight today.

But at least the pronunciation of PNG is settled, isn't it? Well, I've already seen one disagreement.

Ping in computer circles is reserved for the tool that uses ICMP packets to check if a system is up and responding

You can't win.
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