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IceWeasel: Why Closed Source Software Will Always Win Out

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Recently I came across a news article that made me stop and check the source — I was sure I must have stumbled on to the Onion or BBSpot. But no, this is really happening. People are complaining that Firefox isn’t “open source” enough for them, and are creating a separate version of the geek-popular web browser with a different name and logo. Thus IceWeasel was born.

(Open source is a software programming movement that wants the source code of a program to be freely available so that anyone can contribute, modify or improve the program. Unlike copyright law, it recognizes that innovation comes from standing on the shoulders of giants. Usually the only restriction is that whatever you produce using their source code must also be open source and any relevant trademark notices must be respected.)

I thought this would be another blip that would quickly disappear but it seems to be getting more attention. Brian McKenna wrote a fluffy five point list on reasons to support IceWeasel. A more rational list of reasons to abort or support IceWeasel can be found at ForeverGeek. But I still think this is a bad idea.

Anyone who thinks IceWeasel is a good idea has drunken too much of the open source Koolaid. Firefox is the flagship example of open source software, and is the only one “normal” people use. You’re more likely to convince your mom to use tabbed browsing than to start using Ubuntu (although, getting relatives to switch to Ubuntu can easily be the easiest way to remove tech support stress from your life and get away from all of those Stupid Windows Features).

  1. Is this necessary?
    • The reasons for the split are weak at best: security fixes that will eventually become part of Firefox and disagreement over logo/trademark restrictions.

  2. Do we need to fragment the FireFox user base at a time when FF is meeting its first real challenge – – Internet Explorer 7?
  3. Do we need more browser fragmentation?
    • Web design is hard enough with the browsers that are already out there. IceWeasel may start off being functionally identical to Firefox, but give it time and they will drift.

This is the fundamental flaw[1] with open source software. It is very easy to go off in a different direction. Having more choices and market competition leads to better products for the consumer, but it reaches a point where it becomes confusing to users. Linux is a perfect example — how many people have avoided switching from Windows because they don’t know which distribution to start with? Or because the user interface looks like it was cobbled together by different parts? [2]

Proprietary software will always win out because it can have a single-minded purpose and direction. Engineers and programmers have a tendency to reinvent the wheel at the drop of a hat, because “reinventing wheels” is what they enjoy. Even when reinventing the wheel will keep them from getting where they want to go. [3]

Is this a real issue? Not if it stays within the Linux community. If IceWeasel starts replacing Firefox on Windows machines then it'll divide the user base that same way having two equally strong left wing candidates can insure a right wing victory.

[1] And also it's strength. I'm not a complete idiot :)
[2] Which is thankfully starting to improve.
[3] This is even a problem at pro-developer environments like Google where management is finally starting to realize they have too many "hey, why I don't I build this" under-developed applications compared to their strengths like Google Search and Gmail.

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  • Bliffle

    Open Software always has the potential of leading to chaos, but opportunities exist for companies that can put together a packaged version of the software that is coherent, maintained, and reliable. Just like, and often better, than proprietary software.

  • Mark Saleski

    Firefox is the flagship example of open source software, and is the only one “normal” people use.

    an interesting point. however, a slight mischaracterization of open source, since the entire infrastructure of the internet is build from open source components: dns, sendmail, apache, tcp/ip.

    as far as prospective users being confused about which distro to look at, or of the user interface(s) not being unified, i would argue that the vast majority of people have never even had the opportunity to look at a linux-based system. it’s not like it’s easy to purchase a machine with the software preinstalled.

  • http://pryopus.ca Charles Cazabon

    You don’t get it; Debian *has* to do this, because the Mozilla corporation won’t let them distribute Firefox in a way which is consistent with the Debian constitution.

    It’s not that they *want* to fork Firefox. It’s that Mozilla is *making* them do so.

  • GNU/Linux

    nice one Charles Cazabon! Free and Open Source software is not “chaos” it is variety. It is the freedom to choose and to use. You are not complete idiot you are just still blind. Open your eyes and understand.