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Mozilla Open Source Software

Firefox Killing Open Source?

Via Slashdot (as usual) I ran across this blog post. Of particular interest was this:

FireFox: Enabling Windows Users .. To Use Windows

I think we can all agree that FireFox gives Windows users a way out from the security nightmare and feature desert that is Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. At least, Internet Explorer as it appears in 2004. FireFox does this while allowing users to stay on the Windows platform. Meanwhile, Microsoft is not porting any applications to Linux/BSD, nor will they start to do so anytime soon. And so the application imbalance begins…

Survey people using FireFox on Windows. How many of them are saying, “I’m so impressed I’m going to switch to a Free Software desktop.” Virtually zero. Too many of us in the Open Source community naively expect people to draw conclusions that today’s technology consumers are not motivated, let alone empowered, to make.

The more software we port to Windows the more we reinforce this application availability imbalance and strengthen the user’s inertia to stay on Windows. If users had to make a choice between Windows or Linux (or BSD) when it came to getting access to better applications they would find they had a motivation to switch. And switch they would.

Now I really have to question this idea. Is open source having a place on proprietary desktops such as Windows going to kill Open Source on the desktop? I’d suggest a clear no.

Here’s my reasoning:

Those who have an incentive to move to an open source desktop, for reasons such as lower cost, security, flexibility, better performance on older hardware, etc. are going to use open source anyway. So there is clearly no impact on this audience. They are sold. The availability of software on Windows isn’t changing the fact that it’s windows. People who want the advantages of an Open Source desktop still want the Open Source Desktop.

Where there is demand, there will be those wanting to supply

Nobody would switch operating systems because of a browser like Firefox. I’m sorry, but that’s a rediculus argument. Nor will they for pretty much any particular application. If the demand for such a product were high enough to spark such a choice, there would be someone to meet those needs. For example there are several IE based products to add tabs to Internet Explorer. Windows people got sick of popups that Mozilla users were blocking, so a billion and 1 popup blockers came of age.

“Incentive” should be the buzzword in open source

Open Source has spent to much time working on geeky things. Average Joe doesn’t care about 90% of what open source spends it’s time on. He just wants to check his email, visit a few websites, fire up a spreadsheet and do his work, perhaps listen to some music, and sign off. That is it.

Open Source really needs to evaluate what Mozilla did with Firefox. They stopped with the geek talk/features and worked towards pleasing the masses. THAT is what won users. They didn’t rely on the Internet catering to them, they didn’t rely on anyone but the product itself. The product stands alone. Firefox isn’t great because of [insert product here]. It’s a great product. It would be just as good if Windows never existed. It would be just as good if OpenOffice was never created. It would be just as good if… the list goes on. It stands alone.

Why go with a Open Source Desktop?

Well there are a ton of reasons, but each person has their own. Personally I do at some times (I’m not a full time Linux user) simply to play. There is nothing there that’s truly revolutionary (other than security and stability). But that alone isn’t a “feature” to me. The Open Source Desktop has not come of age. I’m sorry to say. Lets look at the offerings:

Windows
Severe market penetration
Most applications available
Mac OS X
Niche market, but still signifigant
Most popular applications available.
Beautiful easy to use UI. Exceeds any offering to date
Open Source Desktops (lumped together)
Free
Lots of free software
Security, Stability

That’s really about it. Notice that 2 out of the 3 advantages for Open Source desktops include the word “free”. I can really lump that into 1 advantage, but then I’d only have 2.

Conclusion

If OpenSource wants to penetrate the desktop, it needs to do so on it’s own two legs. The “we suck less than Microsoft” argument is old, and irrelevant. It needs to stop. The “free” is a buzzword. As economists say “there’s no such thing as free lunch”. Everything has a price. In this case, most common support (commercial products have better support than open source, simply because there is a phone number with someone trained at the other end). That’s expensive to a company deploying. It’s a deterrent to a home user.

Until open source refines itself to target an audience like Apple did. And brings itself to a whole new level, it will not progress. If open source wants the desktop market, it needs to go for it. Not sit around and cry about applications working in Windows. There’s no clear reason for the average computer user to switch to Linux. Anyone who wants to make that argument first needs to make the reason, then argue it.

Blaming others doesn’t fix your own shortcomings. It’s time for Open Source desktops to sit down and think, perhaps even conduct some surveys. “What does my audience want/need/dream of?” Then say “How can I deliver it?” Once that is done… deliver.

1 reply on “Firefox Killing Open Source?”

nice reflexion, I do agree with most your though and particulary your conlusion, opensource has to go for desktop user if they want to reach them, and take them where they are…on windows! I sometime fell that lots of very brilliant opensource developers have difficulties to understand this point of view!

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