Saturday, 18 April 2009

Why Open Source needs another decent Webbrowser

The Open Source world needs another decent web-browser.


Well this ties up with a lot of issues related to how open source, and particularly linux, has been changing over the years, and how, in many ways, I believe that open source is becoming increasingly irrelevant and less open.

Way back when I started using linux the arguments in its favour were hard for the windows using crowd to understand, but there were some that they could get their head around.

1) Linux was fast. I'd start up applications, and they'd pop into existence on the desktop. They might be primitive looking compared to what you'd get under windows, but they did the job well enough, and people's eyebrows would raise when my PC booted in ten seconds flat once it had got through the bios stage.

2) Linux was small and undemanding. You could fit it on almost any piece of hardware more powerful than a 486. Old kit that windows users were unable to use any more worked fine for linux, and to this day I use a bunch of circa 1995 AST laptops running linux, so that I can take them anywhere and if they get stolen, what have I really lost?

3) Linux was reliable. It didn't lock up or crash like windows. There was no 'Blue screen of death', or if there was, it normally meant you had hardware problems, like your processor fan had stopped turning, and the CPU had thus overheated.

4) Linux didn't get viruses/trojans/hacked. This had a lot to do with it being simple and primitive, meaning fewer openings for exploits, and also that it didn't try to do everything for the user (and hence be too ready to open files and run programs that really it shouldn't be messing with). If you did 'ps ax', you could look through a short list of processes, and know what each of them did, and spot any that shouldn't be there (and I once detected some naughtiness going on with just this method).

There were other features that they didn't understand, but which were very important to me. I could get the code for programs, and compile it myself. If they didn't do some little thing that I wanted, or if they blew up unexpectedly, I could go in there and try to fix them, or add the thing that was lacking, or sometimes even take features out that, for one reason or another, I particularly didn't want. I could, and did, learn lots from looking at other people's code, and how they did things.
What's more, there were generally many programs available for linux to do a given task, each with its own advantages and failings. I could pick the one that was most right for me. When once, I heard another linux user saying "You should just use program X, and no other", I looked at him aghast and said "In that case, I should just use windows and be done with it. Linux is about choice. If it's not about choice, it's not about anything."

This was what open source meant for me. Oh yes, and it was free too, which was the main thing that the windows users REALLY understood. But for me the ability to choose, modify, understand and take ownership of the programs I ran, that was what was really important.

And it's all gone to hell since then.