Firefox: The ultimate test for open source?

Firefox: The ultimate test for open source?

Summary: The adoption of the Mozilla Foundation's browser by millions of non-technical users could be the biggest test yet of open source development

TOPICS: Tech Industry

The news late last week of a potential security vulnerability in the open source browser Firefox led to some fiery and frenetic reader contributions to our TalkBack service.

The majority of replies were from fans of community development, as is usual with articles about open source software; software created by passionate individuals is bound to arouse passion. While many of the replies were fairly constructive, pointing out that the security flaw wasn't actually that severe or highlighting the higher frequency of exploits in Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, some of the TalkBack was far less objective.

Some of the more vociferous open source fans among our readership questioned why the article should have been written at all. The gist of these responses seemed to be that Firefox should not be subject to the same kind of scrutiny as its proprietary competitor from Microsoft. This article was regarded in some quarters as being nothing more than an attempt to undermine Firefox and even the whole methodology of the open source software community.

For some, Firefox has been placed on a pedestal and should be beyond reproach. Yet these are the same individuals who are keen for Firefox to be seen as on a par with IE. Surely if this is the case, it's only right that the open source favourite should face the same scrutiny as the proprietary offering, not all of which is balanced, objective or even fair.

Criticism is an inevitable feature of any development process and Firefox, however superior it is to IE (and we believe it is), will only face more of it -- if only because of its increasingly broad reach. If the development methodology that forged it truly is superior to the proprietary approach then open source enthusiasts have little to fear; groundless attacks designed to promote Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt will be exposed as just that.

It could be claimed that the growth in the popularity of Firefox --16 million downloads and counting -- presents the open source community with its first mass market test. It is the first time that an open source application has been placed in the hands of tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of non-technical users and asked to perform. Linux is enormously popular but on the whole is being administered by technically competent users -- trained IT staff in many cases. But Firefox will increasingly be adopted by the general populace, who in most cases will lack the inclination or expertise to get under the hood of an application. The year ahead may finally provide irrefutable evidence of whether open source development really deserves the devotion it inspires in its advocates.

Topic: Tech Industry

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  • Well said. I do feel quite guilty about posting my talkback now. At the end of the day we do want Firefox to be a true competitor to IE and we have to accept that the program isn't perfect (yet).
  • Quite right. However, being a user of Firefox isn't necessarily about being anti-IE. Simply, Firefox is a much better browser. And if Microsoft aren't going to push forward and improve their own browser and email clients, then they have no right to rest on the laurels and think the battle is over. It obviously isn't- it's just begun!!
  • While I agree with the premise of this article as to the overreaction on the part of the Firefox community. You had every right to report on it and should have. However as to the concluding sentence of your article, I believe the viability and success of open source software has already been proven by Linux and the companies formed around it and the environment of other open source software. My point is that this is already the case. I just dislike the concluding sentence because how do you measure if it's worth it. Obviously, it's worth it to the developers and the user community or they would spend their time elsewhere.
  • Only a ignorant dolt (or a troll) would be against publicly reporting software bugs or security problems

    The story here is not the reporting of the opinions of a misguided fringe, but the reporting of how the opinions of authoritative free software developers differ from proprietary developers on the matter. The former are for free and open disclosure; the latter have a history of being against disclosure. The *big* story is how these opinions and policies play out in practice.

    eWeek missed the mark entirely.
  • If anyone reading this switched to Firefox only on the belief that it would be 100% secure, you are going to be disappointed. Because nothing's 100% secure.

    We argue that our way is more secure, but please us who promised absolute security; no one should, because no one can deliver.
  • Good Point. The GNU/Linux platform, even in it's "dummed down" versions such as Lindows/Linspire, it generally hitting a more tech-savvy audience. Firefox it hitting an entirely different audience. The simple fact is, Firefox isn't going to be perfect, and there will be exploits discovered. The two tests will be, (1) how well can the development team limit the impact of those exploits through careful design and implementation, and (2) how can the community deal with the problem of getting out patches to Grandma when an exploit is discovered, in such a way that she doesn't have to really understand what is going on.
  • Well,
    This article is typical media-hype to generate readership of a weak aricle.

    Firstly, whilst I agree with your comments that Firefox should be compared on an equal footing with IE, that is a fair point, but does not warrant a leader article because it is blindingly obvious. I do not agree your interpretation that the responses from other readers is newsworthy.

    Secondly, your article shows a complete lack of understanding about the Open Source community. Frankly, there are plenty of highly biased people in the community, whose heart is in the right place but do not understand just how venal this industry really is.

    To take the chatter on an article like this and then publish a *leader article* based on it is, in my opnion worse than the chatter your original article generated. Where are your facts? Are the people flaming you responsible for major Open Source projects? The only factual substance in the article is that Firefox should be judged on a par with its competition. There is a minor interest item that this is the first publically visible "retail" Open Source project. There's your article, not much of a leader is it?

    In my view, your article shows poor journalism, by all means write it- but the inflamatory and highly contentious charge that "this is the big test" for Open Source is foolish.

    In the ten years I've been working with Open Source, I've seen loads of articles saying: if Linux this or that, Apache the other and so on. In all cases the projects survived the particular inflection point (thanks Andy Grove) and in all cases thrived.

    Less vapourware please, better journalism.
  • I do like firefox I have been using an alternate browser (other then IE) since netscape 3.0 came out & i agree that t's only right that the open source favourite should face the same scrutiny as the proprietary offering, not all of which is balanced, objective or even fair.

    because as more people use it ther will be more hackers etc who will try to find bugs or holes in the software & do to the facty that it ias open source & more then the normal amount of people debug it, it is more likly to have holes in it. any software that competes against another piece of software. IT MUST face the same scrutiny as the software its competing against.
  • I installed Firefox a couple of weeks ago as a replacement for IE. I had a few buggy things but took the time to read some of the messages and help files available thru Mozilla.
    In all honesty I have been using computers since the late 60's and have been communicating with them since the late 70's. I don't program beyond batch files but understand some of the deeper basics. Having fiddled with them for this long you kind of have to learn something.
    I like knowing what's on my computer and who's leaving information and how that information is stored or collected. Most proprietary software comes with a price, not money, but privacy sacrifice. Maybe not to hackers but business, marketing and government. I'm not a crook nor a porn king but like my privacy. If I do a search on a topic I don't want to be tracked as the things I look at may give away what I am thinking about creating. I also think the storage of what I have done and been looking at should be fully accesible and deletable. With IE it's not and with Firefox it is as long as I use a hex editor to edit the files IE creates in the background when I'm on line.
    I do not think it emotional or misrepresentative to state Microsoft has security issues beyond their proprietary rights. They have a great many "oops" situations which they leave go so marketing, business types and government would have no problems seeing and recording your information, not to mention hackers, who quite frankly could care less about my duck soup recipe.
    Firefox seems to function well except on some sites that have been completely taken over by Microsoft scripting. So far I noticed it's most of the sites where communication of negetive remarks about government or technology might change minds. Go figure?
  • It's free so quit your whining. They owe you nothing and you have no right to complain if you paid nothing.