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Interclue and the pitfalls of going proprietary

By Bruce Byfield on December 29, 2008 (2:00:00 PM)

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The Interclue extension is supposed to give you a preview of links in Firefox before you visit them, saving you mouse-clicks and, with a little luck, allowing you to move quickly between multiple links on the same page. Unfortunately, the determination to monetize the add-on and keep its source code closed results in elaborations that make the basic idea less effective, and its constant pleas for donations make Interclue into nagware. As much as the usefulness of the basic utility, Interclue serves as an object lesson of the difficulties that the decision to go proprietary can take.

Extension series

Using Interclue is straightforward. When the cursor pauses on a link, Interclue adds one or more 10x10-pixel icons to the right of the link. One of these icons can either be the favicon of the page referenced in the link, or a generic Interclue one. Other icons can be one of a couple of dozen that give information about the link, such as whether it is to an anchor on a page or encrypted, or the type of file that it points to. Or such, at least is the theory -- in practice, all that you might be able to detect without some desperate squinting is that an icon is available. And, if you do see more without much effort, you still have to remember what the extra icons mean. In practice, all you are really like to care about is that a preview is available, so this effort to add value falls a little flat.

Passing the cursor over an Interclue icons produces a small preview of the site that the link leads to. This preview can save time, just as Interclue promises. But the extension can get confused on some sites -- for instance, on Site Meter, it confuses the link that is supposed to lead to a detailed view with a more general page. Even more troublesome, the preview page is often too small to read without scrolling or resizing, so you do not so much save time as swap moving between tabs for scrolling and resizing. In other words, the usefulness of the preview seems hit or miss.

The preview window -- or ClueViewer, as it is called -- stays open as long as the mouse remains inside it. From the preview, you can move to the previous or next link preview -- a feature that is especially useful when reading a search results page, as Intercon is quick to point out. You can also bookmark the link or open it in a new tab, email the link or copy it to your desktop clipboard, change Inteclue options, or report bugs. In addition, should you have a sudden burst of gratitude or generosity, you can use the preview window's icons make a donation to Interclue from the preview window. More practically, you can right-click in the preview to get the usual Firefox content menu that allows you to save an image or a block of highlighted text. Using Interclue, you might be able to research a topic and save notes without ever leaving your starting page, especially if it is a list of search results.

Interclue installs a small icon on the right of the status bar at the bottom of the Firefox. By clicking it, you open a menu that includes a small tutorial on Interclue, as well as items to disable the add-on either generally or for the current browsing session or page.

As with any Firefox add-on, you can configure Interclue from the Tools -> Add-on menu. You can also open the Preferences dialog from the status bar. Preferences include giving more information about your computer so that the add-on can run more efficiently, and setting the speed with which icons and previews display. They end with a credits tab and a donation tab that includes a long rambling plea for money.

The proprietary dilemma

On the Interclue FAQ, the add-on's developers explain that the software is free for downloading, but because they have taken angel capital, they are not in a position to release the code under an open license. They feel guilty enough that the FAQ suggests that, if they make any money, they may invest some of it in open source projects. Meanwhile, they are talking about subscriber services that will allow users to take advantage of affiliate programs whenever they use Interclue.

This position is worth mentioning partly because the lack of a free license will keep some away from Interclue. But it is also worth mentioning because it seems not only unnecessary, but an example of the dilemmas that proprietary software can sometimes lead to. If the developers can give their software away, they could certainly consider dual-licensing for multiple versions of the project.

Even more significantly, the efforts to commercialize only detract from the software itself. The basic idea behind Interclue would make for a handy Web utility, but seems too slight to build a business around. The effort to do so only leads to complications that do nothing to enhance the basic utility, and to pleas for donations that can only annoy. The result is that, if your position on free software doesn't lead you to avoid Interclue, the efforts to monetize it almost certainly will.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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on Interclue and the pitfalls of going proprietary

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10x10 icon!?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 172.17.1.9] on December 29, 2008 05:15 PM
You lost me at the 10x10 icon. I have a 1600x1200 resolution monitor. How would I see a 10x10 icon? Whoever invested in this was probably an optometrist.

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Re: 10x10 icon!?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 92.14.219.174] on December 29, 2008 06:56 PM
you could write a new firefox plugin to zoom the size of icons, say to 64x64 pixels.

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Interclue and the pitfalls of going proprietary

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.100.64.40] on December 29, 2008 06:29 PM
Wait a moment: "Passing the cursor over an Interclue icons produces a small preview of the site that the link leads to" Don't tell this to Cygnus!

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Strawman argument (sort of)

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 128.255.136.100] on December 29, 2008 06:39 PM
Given the description of the extension, it certainly isn't something I'd pay for. Nor is it something I would use if it were completely open sourced and blessed by both ESR and RMS. Twice.

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No proprietary extensions for me!

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 151.188.247.104] on December 29, 2008 09:57 PM
I don't care how "useful" something purports to be. If it's at work and required for my job (thus my mortgage), then I'll grudgingly use it, while looking for a Free alternative.

But on my personal gear, I am of course not bound by that restriction. Proprietary extensions/plugins/whatever-ins do not exist on my boxes. If I allowed that crap, hell, I might as well go back to Windows and Internet Exploder then, 'cuz it would defeat the point of using Firefox or another Free browser (I use GNU/Linux and OpenBSD). If I want to watch YouTube movies, no problem, that's what youtube-dl is for. WMV's, I treat like the bubonic plague (same with QuickCrime). If I can't play it with Free Software, then I don't need it.

You want a good Free Software extension that is actually very useful? Try out NoScript. It's wonderful.

--SYG

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Re: No proprietary extensions for me!

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 118.8.148.70] on January 12, 2009 12:58 PM
Your house must be fun when a girl comes over to visit?
"Can I watch this video on YouTube?" "Ok, but I have to download it..."
"Oh check out this new music video on apple.com" "erm... no.. see Quicktime is bad because... well you know the computer code? They wouldn't let us see it..."

Come on, I like open source too, and it has a lot of advantages, but something is still useful if it's useful, open source or not. For example MPEG4 AVC video (used by Quicktime is State-of-the-art, and no patent-free-open-source variant even comes close. There are open source reference decoders, but using them (at least the encoders) isn't technically legal unless you obtain a license first (you do that, right?)

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Interclue and the pitfalls of going proprietary

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.192.236.140] on December 29, 2008 10:21 PM
"They feel guilty enough that the FAQ suggests that, if they make any money, they may invest some of it in open source projects."

Granted this doesn't seem like a tool that you can build a business around but what is the problem with a business wanting to make money on a product they develop? Guilty? For what?

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Re: Interclue and the pitfalls of going proprietary

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.203.253.240] on December 30, 2008 11:15 AM
Donations to open source projects are pitifully low. People want to use the stuff but to give back...whoa, I am too busy...I don't have the money, etc. etc.

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Interclue and the pitfalls of going proprietary

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.12.98.76] on December 29, 2008 11:44 PM
They're not the first ones to do this, CoolIris does a very similar thing.

The problem I've encountered with such plug-ins is that they don't seem to offer the same level of support as community-based free software. If there's a problem with one of these plug-ins, I submit an email or bug report to their tech support, but NEVER have I seen a response or an effort to put out a newer release.

On the other hand, the free ones go through rapid upgrade cycles to ensure it is less buggy/more effective. It seems "You get what you pay for" isn't true anymore.

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I'm fine with it.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.99.130.129] on December 30, 2008 05:09 AM
My monitor is 1024 by 768 MAX resolution so I have no problem with it. I only use it to view links and find dead links. It is very useful, I don't care if it's proprietary or not: that is entirely the prerogative of the copyright holder (in this case a corporation). I can read the links just fine and the icons show up nice and clear. It's a life and timesaver.

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Re: I'm fine with it.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 60.234.150.237] on December 30, 2008 06:30 AM
If by corporation, you mean I couple of guys I know, who call them self a company, then yes.

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Re(1): I'm fine with it.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 124.168.156.15] on December 31, 2008 01:28 PM
Hey! - I know those guys too! (Hi Seth)

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Meh.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 58.28.152.105] on December 30, 2008 08:52 AM
Just one thing: If you think a "donate" button that you can turn off, and a tab in the options menu that you can ignore counts as "nagware" then you haven't seen real nagware.

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"Ich bin ein berliner"

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.31.33] on January 10, 2009 08:14 PM
"I have made a goal that with in the next 10 years a trillion dollars of defecit spending will occure every year of my term as President of the United States" - J.F.K no you don't understand democrats arn't refering to the J.F.K. the president, we just say it with a smile on our face and everyone thinks thats what were talking about, it means what ever you think it means. If we did this stuff in the 60's we'ed be put in jail for all of the bestreasons. It's just fiddeling kooky to think we're talking about the president, or anything other than jumping off a cliff (metephoricaly) and taking as many others with us. Other than advancing the spieceous adjurnment of proven principals that define Americas greatness, we have embrace, some say by inhearently oppossing the opposition, everything evil and are embarked upon the epic historical strugle joined by democrats, and this is the best part, republicans in name only trying to get a foot hold. Its classic! - If a musical production can be assembled using jack. How much different is that from making tracks emial content with an id header and playing them back on request as a base station comunication platform.

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Interclue and the pitfalls of going proprietary

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.138.88.111] on January 21, 2009 03:41 PM
It tells you in the operating instructions that opening a link with Interclue is the same as opening it period (i.e. trojans, spyware,etc.,etc) and having to navigate the window you may as well just open the mail. I don't see the point. But then again I don't see a lot of things. :)

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