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The Free Software hardliner, the corporation, and the shotgun wedding

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 19, 2008 09:01 PM
The classical Unix concept of small and simple components in a
conceptual tool chain, held together by stark and self-documenting
interfaces, probably wouldn't have given us Calc. Or
Firefox. Or Evolution. But what is interesting about these prime
examples of Free Software with corporate-monolith-suite-itis is this:
they end up sporting plugin systems. To be really honest, a plugin
system is actually at a very high level a scream for help, a way of
saying, "This codebase is too beastly! We need to export a simplified
interface for developers to be able to contribute more easily!" Plugin
interfaces are admissions of guilt. They are unconscious confessions
that it was a mistake to discard the tool chain architecture.
Well said. It seems Firefox is the exemplar of 'not-Unix'. Apart from
the monolithic design it fails the 'stay out my way' test and the
'script with me' test. An example of the first case are
unsolicited and unnecessary pop-up screens on by default, specifically
for updates. You can turn these off but there is no way to
automatically and unobtrusively update extensions: you need to view 2
screens on start up: 'Update extensions?' and 'Update successful'. The
second requires a 'continue' from the user and is completely
unnecessary and obnoxious: If there is no error you don't need to tell
me anything just continue.

For the second case: Firefox has no good scripting ability, you need
to go with a full fledged plugin to program the browser's
behaviour. Throw away scripting and quick iterative development that
is ubiquitous on Unix is nigh impossible in Firefox (javascript shells
are so terrible to be not worth the trouble). I don't know how many
times I wished that I could just run mechanize + Hpricot in Firefox.

(More articles of this quality please).


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