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Simple Solutions (Slashdot Editorial)

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the editorials dept.
This is the first of hopefully many Slashdot.org Editorials. In addition to just reporting the news, the Slashdot Team really wishes to try to put out new ideas, or share other information that our readers may find helpful, interesting, or entertaining.

We're standing at an amazing crossroad here. The Free Software Foundation, and especially the Linux OS have gained amazing ground. The mainstream press (eg the ZiffDavis marketing monopoly) actually now regularly acknowledge Linux along side MacOS and Windows as being a "Real" Operating system.

And then there is the browser world, where the race was once one horse, then hundreds, and now 2. Microsoft and Netscape have been battling it out for some time now, and Netscape's once unstoppable 70% market share has begun crumbling.

Meanwhile the Free Software world is facing a battle of its own. The Commercial browser world has been reduced to the big ones, but the free world is producing Mneumonic, Gzilla, and various other smaller projects. Many talented programmers slave away on these products, but each day, Microsoft gains ground.

Add the final piece of data to the mix:Netscape is losing money as well as browser market share. What's a company to do? Maybe the solution is simple:GPL Netscape's Source Code.

So now that you've stopped laughing, let's talk about this seriously for a moment. Let's look at why Netscape should seriously consider this:

Talented programmers from around the world would actively improve Netscape's browser. The Free Software Movement has proven that if some control is enforced at the center (eg Linus) programs can develop communally. Netscape would not have to pay most of the development cost of their software. Coordination, and key programmers would be essential, but minor once coders around the world join in.

Netscape needs browser dominance to fuel its server market, and to remain synonymous with the Internet. If current trends continue, MS will = the Internet in another year.

Netscape is losing money on the browser market. They need to release their browser for free to compete with Microsoft anyway.

Source code would allow compilation on other systems- say a Pentium optimized version, or whatever other optimizations become available for platform X.

Excellent Publicity generated by such an original move would earn Netscape respect from the Free Software junkies who often have somewhat negative feelings towards Netscape. These Free Software Junkies are gaining control of much of the world's IS departments, and Netscape's good name will get them places in these corporate worlds.

So that's all well and good for Netscape, but what about the rest of us. Netscape has taken a lot of heat for its gapping shortcomings. In particular its bloated size and slow performance. Why would the Free Software World want to take on this project?

GPL means we would have a state of the art free browser.

Netscape could be ported to GTK or Qt for faster performance and lower memory requirements than Motif.

Various web browser efforts could focus on a single project (which could have many faces) which already has so many of the features they need. Instead of these projects dividing the effort, they could unify.

The superior programming talents of the world's programmers would make Netscape the superior browser, which would win over converts back from Microsoft even on Wintel boxes where MS is gaining support.

New browsers derived from Netscape for more specific tasks could share things like an HTML rendering engine for commonality.

Now I realize that there are problems. Large parts of Netscape's code aren't really Netscape's to give away. The "about:" screen of Netscape Communicator lists 12 companies besides Netscape including Apple, Macromedia, Symantec and many others. Perhaps these modules are removed. Perhaps these modules could also GPLd. Netscape does need to maintain the primary code base, and finding someone with the charisma of Linus to steerhead the development of code from hundreds of people will me a challange. Then there are problems with large portions of the Free Software world disliking Netscape. I really hope this could change, especially if they were given the opportunity to maintain it.

I really think this could be the answer to a lot of problems. With the power of an Internet full of programmers, even Microsoft's Billions of R&D dollars would be threatened. And we would be guaranteed a real choice even if IE4 becomes the standard on Windows boxes.

What do you think?

by Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda
malda@slashdot.org

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Simple Solutions (Slashdot Editorial)

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