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Free software comes of age - Her Most Regal Majesty, the Queen of Snark
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Free software comes of age
Both the BBC and The Guardian have high profile coverage of today's launch of the Mozilla Firefox 1.0 web browser. This is the first time I can remember that a piece of non-corporate developed software has made such a big impact on the media. The Guardian even has a leader article about it.

Who'd have thought that Microsoft killing off Netscape may well have been the best thing they've done for the free software community ever. I've been using Firefox for a month or so now and it seems to be superior in pretty much every way to Internet Explorer.

Linux has been around and in the news for a while, but in many ways Linux is too nebulous a concept to sell to the masses. After all, the many different flavours of Linux and different software sets, desktop environments etc. have left a lot of people confused as to exactly what Linux is. (And if you believe Richard Stallman, Linux is the name of a kernel, not an OS anyway, further adding to the confusion.)

The release of Firefox is, I think, a very important milestone for free software. It's the first major standalone product to really take the woman in the street head on. Mozilla itself was Netscape's baby really, and the various Linuxes and OpenOffice aren't really of comparable consistency and integration to Windows. Apache and Samba have been at that level for some time, but don't really have the same impact upon end users. Smaller projects like PuTTY have been at this standard for years, but such projects have worked because they are sufficiently simple (or rather those behind them are sufficiently clever) that they require little to no project management.

Firefox looks and feels like it belongs on the end user desktop machines of the world, and I predict it's going to find its way there, simply by virtue of being free and better than anything else out there.

As last there is truly something we can point at and go "look, open source really does work for large projects too". I look forward to more free software projects reaching this level of maturity.
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lanfykins From: lanfykins Date: November 9th, 2004 03:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, but can it cope with the approvals database yet...
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: November 9th, 2004 03:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
I regard this as a bug in the approvals database, to be honest. I've not come across a single page that isn't rendered usably in Firefox.
lanfykins From: lanfykins Date: November 9th, 2004 03:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heh. I'd talk to crocodilewings about that if I were you. He has a rant :)
crocodilewings From: crocodilewings Date: November 9th, 2004 03:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've refined the rant now. It essentially boils down to there being little to no compromise between web standards and how it's actually used. Having checked, the fault didn't lie with Mozilla, which was parsing stuff by the book (albeit in a bit of a silly way, since I can't see why you'd want your text overflow to be superimposed over the content beneath it, and breaking out of the height property would be a more sensible way of dealing with it, all things being equal) but with Microsoft not implementing a min-height attribute, which would be a more elegant solution full-stop.

The trouble with working towards a set of standards different from how most of the webpages in the world are actually written is that it will never gain the big-money appeal needed to make the transition, because companies want their webpages to be visible by everyone, and pretty much everyone wants older pages to be parsed by newer browsers, which, at the moment, means IE.

It's like that French governmental body that orchestrates use of the French language (the name of which escapes me right now). It doesn't take into account that language is a living thing. A dirty, awkward, arbitrarily-made living thing that becomes more diverse and workable because of its assorted ambiguity-related flaws, and trying to confine it too much, or to work from an ideal that isn't practically implementable from the point it's at now does possibly more harm than good.

Which is why my NaNo page didn't work. Bastards.
wimble From: wimble Date: November 9th, 2004 04:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I remember the classic problem of pages which didn't include </table> tags at the end. IE obviously "auto-closed" the tags, Netscape 4 (this was a while ago) didn't, and therefore simply didn't display the table at all!

Display the "incorrect" web page in usable fashion (given that the source is incorrect, there's no correct rendering, so settle for something that at least works), but add a popup window, or bar, or something vaguely intrusive which mentions the fact that the page is incorrect.

Then incorrect pages will still work, so end-users won't blame the browser, but it'll be annoying so they'll send complaints back to the page designers.

crocodilewings From: crocodilewings Date: November 9th, 2004 05:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
But then you get onto the somewhat thorny issue of what constitutes "correct" and "incorrect" source. By one standard (the standard standard) IE may implement something completely contrary to how it's supposed to be implemented, but by another standard (the 90%-of-users-view-it-this-way standard) it's the most practical way to make a page, so it'll end up getting made that way, and it'll work for the overwhelming majority of users, even though by the former standard, it's "incorrect".

Insert something poignant about form and function here.
chrisvenus From: chrisvenus Date: November 9th, 2004 05:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
An interesting argument but bear in mind the 90% view it this way means that one in every ten people who views the page sees it differently.

Also you are failing to take into account that in almost every situation you can make a page that will render in both browsers the way you want it to. Oh well, I am reasonably confident that time will prove me right. Especially given that Microsoft have stopped developing IE apparently. There making new version for new OSes but it means that unless you're running the latest windows OS you'll probably be wanting non-IE for compliance to the new features (like CSS2 which IE6 is making passable attempts at but it'd be nice for it to get CSS right at all - don't get me started on the fact that IE apparently doesn't quite understand how the cascade rules work).
chrisvenus From: chrisvenus Date: November 9th, 2004 03:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
What's the problem with the apps database? I use firefox when I view it and I obviously don't have access to all the same bits that an ST does but I have no problems with it...

And if the DB does have a problem then kick caroline to get me on the DB programming team and I'll fix it. Almost certainly it woudl be the first thing I did so that I could use the system to then fix other things. :)
lanfykins From: lanfykins Date: November 9th, 2004 03:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can't actually remember. Some lack of menuosity meaning I couldn't actually do anything, I seem to recall. I'll go check.
wimble From: wimble Date: November 9th, 2004 05:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Out of curiousity, where is this database? I'd like to understand what bit of design stupidity is causing this much grief!
chrisvenus From: chrisvenus Date: November 9th, 2004 05:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Its a Cam database and the bits I have access to as a player all work fine as far as I can tell. You need to be an ST (I assume) to see the bits that don't work so you wouldn't be able to. If I find out though I'll let you know. :)
From: robinbloke Date: November 9th, 2004 03:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Firefox is of the spiff :)
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