Firefox and Open Source
King of Open Source
An open-source slam dunk
In the summer of 1999, Salon was invited to observe a showdown at PC Week's testing labs in Foster City, Calif., between Microsoft Windows and Linux. The atmosphere was tense. The Linux representatives were young and arrogant; Microsoft's were middle-aged and arrogant. But at perhaps no moment did the Microsoft reps' self-satisfaction shine through more irritatingly than when they noted the superiority of their in-house approach to software development as compared to the collaborative, distributed, open-source way of doing business. Look at the browser market, one marketing manager noted. A year before, Netscape had released the code to its browser and started the Mozilla project. But it was going nowhere, and in the meantime Internet Explorer 5.0 was taking over.
To open-source advocates, the comment was cutting. Netscape had generated oodles of media hype when it released the source code to its browser, but there was no denying Microsoft's ensuing total domination of the market.
At Salon, we've covered the saga of Mozilla closely ever since, and we've marked several points at which we thought the Mozilla browser had made significant progress. But it often seemed we were shouting at deaf ears. Internet Explorer continued to reign supreme, and when we told our friends and relatives that there was an alternative, they looked at us kind of funny -- like: all that free software stuff was cute back in 1999, but now you're beginning to sound like one of those freaks who still think the Amiga computer is set for a big comeback.
Then came 2004, the release of the 1.0 version of Firefox, the stand-alone Mozilla browser, and the consequent first decline in Microsoft's browser market share in years.
Back in 1999, everything happened on Internet time. But writing good code isn't easy to speed up. Firefox is welcome proof that open-source software programs can be user friendly, easy to install, and competitive with Microsoft. If Salon awarded a Program of the Year medal, it would go to Firefox.
Here's the problem: Linux advocates are eager to define Open Source as Linux. Wackos like Richard Stallman (and I have the tape to prove he's one) take credit for it. But in reality, Open Source is an idea anyone can use. Hell, most games have a limited form of it, allowing for massive modifications. Open Source is, and will always be more than Linux, although that is the most ambitious project using that ideology. But too many people have been eager to comingle the two.
"Oh, Firefox is open source, just like Linux"
Well, no, anyone can use Firefox. Just because Firefos uses the Open Source ideology doesn't mean it's a harbinger of good things for Linux. What it does mean is that an organized, focused approach for application development works.
Which means if Firefox can take on IE, which is embedded into Windows, then a similar group can take on Word. Which is the real obsticle for wider Linux adoption. Firefox is a route to success, if people take it.
posted by Steve @ 1:55:00 PM