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Refining shopping terms for test systems

16 Dec 2013  | Larr Desjardin

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Compatibility and interoperability are often misused in the field of test systems, Larry Desjardin writes in this issue of Outside the Box. Instead of using the two terms, Desjardin suggests the terms coexistence, interchangeability, and interworking so that users can be more specific when shopping for an appropriate test system.

We all know that compatibility and interoperability are key desires in test systems. However, every time I hear a user ask, "Is that compatible with X?" or "Are those products interoperable?", I hesitate. The problem is that these are ambiguous terms, and mean different things to different people. I usually reply with a question, "Without using those two terms, what is it you want?"

In this blog post, I will suggest some alternate terms to be more precise.

Compatible and interoperable are not well defined terms. I'm sure there is a paper somewhere that defines them. And I'm also sure there is another paper that defines them differently. I'm as guilty as anyone else. I've been involved with modular standards such as VXI, PXI, and AXIe for nearly three decades. As standards bodies we often do "interoperability testing", where we test different combinations of chassis, modules, and software. But is this really interoperability testing, compatibility testing, or something else? The truth is that we often use all these terms qualitatively.

Let me introduce three new terms that may help us more: coexistence, interchangeability, and interworking.

Coexistence means that certain products can be combined together. That is, they are not mutually incompatible. There are levels of coexistence. Can a traditional LXI instrument co-exist with a modular PXI instrument? Most likely. Note that this question is clear, while the question "is LXI compatible with PXI?" is not.

Coexistence is critical for test systems. It allows a user to choose which hardware and software products may be combined together in a system. Since a given test system controller can control any combination of LXI, PXI, and AXIe, you may think all products may coexist. But that isn't the case, particularly in the software domain. Window drivers cannot operate within Linux operating systems, for example.

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