What is Interoperability?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Interoperability refers to the ability of two or more devices to operate smoothly together, interconnecting in whatever ways are appropriate to the context without excessive effort being required. In computing, interoperability is used in two distinct ways. First, interoperability is used to discuss how devices work together in a particular network setting. Second, interoperability is a highly rated feature of software applications in which interconnection with other software and operation on multiple operating systems is key to successful operation.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

In a computer network, it is essential for the component parts to be interoperable. This includes computers, servers, hubs, routers, switches, and monitors. Also of concern are cables and any means of connecting them. This type of interoperability is insured by manufacturers by creating specs to standard and by network managers by both following system requirements when choosing hardware and/or using specialized adapters to create interfaces between items, such as display adapters.

Within a software application, besides its ability to run on multiple operating systems, interoperability often focuses on a cluster of program features. Importing a wide variety of file formats is one. This is important to professional architectural design software because preliminary sketches may be made in a wide variety of other programs, some not particularly made for professionals and some not particularly made for architecture, meaning that neither will be capable of exporting a file of the proper format. In addition to simply being able to import from some other programs, the breadth of file formats that are convertible is a key selling point for professional architectural design software to the extent that each file importable format is listed in the descriptive material of several programs. It is also important for a person moving from an amateur program to a professional program or simply switching manufacturers and wanting to be able to convert all the files that have already been created into the new format.

For many professionals who use software, the ‘Export,’ ‘Save As,’ and ‘Publish’ features are the ways in which materials to present to clients are created. Here it is necessary to be able to create materials that the clients can access with ease, so here, too interoperability is important. Also of value in this area is being able to assemble multiple file formats into a single package. Other features that are key spots where interoperability impacts function are the ‘Copy’ and ‘Paste’ features.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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