Firefox lead engineer backs Apple in KDE squabble

Builder: The row over Apple's replacement of Safari's rendering engine has widened, with Ben Goodger entering the fray and laying out what he thinks the open source community can learn from Apple

Debate between Apple and the open source KDE project over a rendering engine replacement intensified yesterday as Firefox lead engineer Ben Goodger backed Apple.

Commenting in his blog on the debate — which revolves around an Apple proposal to dump the KHTML engine it famously integrated into its Safari Web browser several years ago — Goodger was harsh on the KDE project.

"Safari's renderer is vastly superior to the KHTML used by Konqueror," said Goodger. Konqueror is the KDE project's open source Web browser. The Safari renderer is known as WebCore.

Goodger went on to say the open source community could not accuse Apple of breaching any licences.

"Not everyone wants to change the world, but Apple does," he said, "and although they may have done the least required of them in accordance with the licences of the original source code, it was within their rights to do what they did, and no one should begrudge them for it."

Key to the open source community's concerns has been Apple's actions in fixing bugs in such a way that they could not be integrated back into the open source code base. The Firefox guru scolded the KDE developers for forgetting the user base they purported to serve.

"Should I have to wait months or years for every patch that makes Safari more compatible to be done perfectly?", he asked the KDE community. "No. Well maybe as a software engineer I should. But does anyone that isn't a software engineer care? Probably not. Case closed."

Goodger gave the open source community a list of ways in which they could follow Apple in attempting to create software that could change the world.

It was important, he said, realise that "no software is ever perfect".

Secondly, developers should prioritise releasing their products on time, even if they "may have to cut corners".

The engineer concluded his list by reiterating his view that "there needs to be a strong focus on meeting the needs of the target audience" — a view that Firefox creator Blake Ross appears to agree with.

Although not specifically commenting on the Apple/KDE debate, Ross has also recently written on his blog about problems connecting with users.

"The gulf between the people making software and the people using it is widening," he said. "The [Silicon] Valley is hurtling forward on Internet time and leaving a huge mass of frustrated people in its wake."

"Most developers probably don’t alienate people intentionally ... Over time, software has come to demand an impossibly high level of computer literacy," the Firefox creator wrote.