Firefox On Windows Is Good

Slashdot got quite excited about Aaron Seigo’s blog post suggesting that porting free software apps to Windows is a bad idea. He used Firefox as his example.

However, the “removing barriers to entry” logic is why it’s actually good for the free software desktop to have Firefox and on Windows. What’s more likely – an organisation switching their OS, browser and office suite all at the same time, or one at a time? If you don’t have to change your apps, switching to the cheaper, more secure, more stable OS is much more of an easy move.

But Aaron is half right. If we have killer apps on Linux for which no functional equivalents exist on Windows, then porting them would be a bad idea. Firefox and have well-established competitors on Windows, and so having the free software equivalents on Windows has no downside. This is similar to the logic rms suggests people use when deciding to license a library under the LGPL or GPL:

The most common case is when a free library’s features are readily available for proprietary software through other alternative libraries. In that case, the library cannot give free software any particular advantage, so it is better to use the Library GPL for that library… However, when a library provides a significant unique capability, like GNU Readline, that’s a horse of a different color. The Readline library implements input editing and history for interactive programs, and that’s a facility not generally available elsewhere. Releasing it under the GPL and limiting its use to free programs gives our community a real boost. At least one application program is free software today specifically because that was necessary for using Readline.

10 thoughts on “Firefox On Windows Is Good

  1. The thing that bugs me about resisting porting software to Windows is the whole freedom issue.
    If Free Software is about empowering the user, then isn’t one of the rights a user has the unlimited right to choose their own OS, even if it’s proprietary?

    Personally, I go for Linux, but not everyone sees things that way.

  2. Free Software is about Freedom. It’s isn’t about luxury. If the developers only wanted a Linux version, then that is what the users get. However, (in rms’s world) with Free Software, users can become developers and freely do what they want with the software, including porting it to windows if they wish.

    Freedom, not luxury.

  3. Either I didn’t express my point right or you didn’t get it.

    The point is that it is disingenuous to discourage development for Windows if the point of Free Software is Freedom. If the lack of porting is incidental (i.e., simply that no one’s ever bothered to do it), that’s another story.

    The other nuance is that tying any application and operating system together for the express purpose of limiting wher the users can run the application sounds very much like something Microsoft would do.

  4. Depends whose view you take of course, but in some people’s view the point of Free Software isn’t just to give some people a little bit more freedom, it is to create an environment in which everything is Free for everyone. People shouldn’t be slightly more empowered within an environment of non-Free software, they should be completely empowered and all software should be Free.

  5. The core question is weather porting Free Software to Windows is the right thing to do with the goal being increased usage in Free Software Operating Systems. That’s debatable, and is being debated.

    You said that Free Software is about empowering the user, and then implied that the ability to choose (an Operating System, for example) is paramount to Free Software’s greater meaning.

    I say that Free Software isn’t about choice. It’s about Freedom. You can have ruthless business practices but also guarantee source to all your clients. You can give them all the rights that the GPL gives you, and still tie a browser to an OS. Free Software guarantees that software you “have” (purchase, download, for free, or for pay), you own all the rights to, except you may not take away from the rights of anyone else that also “has” said software.

    If I re-write your point, it makes more sense: “It is disingenuous to discourage development for Windows if the point of Free Software is choice.” By discouraging Free Software Development for Windows, you are decreasing choice, but your freedoms stay the same.

    For example, having both XFree86 and both as X-Servers isn’t a product of the Free Software mentality, it’s a side-effect of what people can do with Freedom.

    Notice that I haven’t yet said anything about weather or not people *should* write Free Software for Windows. When the goal is increased Linux use, I’ll leave that to people who understand market trends (and gerv :) ).

  6. I hope someone actually conducts a random phone survey to help statistically show whether people are actually moving from non-free OSes to free software OSes and, if they’re doing so, they’re doing it because of free software being made for non-free OSes.

    So far I’ve read lots of people postulate that free software on non-free OSes makes it more likely to switch to a free OS. But I have not seen this happen, nor have I heard of anyone who has made the switch do so because of cross-platform free software.

    Instead, I think it’s likely that people will stay with their non-free OS (predominantly Microsoft Windows). Doing something is more work than doing nothing.

  7. If Firefox and OpenOffice aren’t available on Windows, which Windows users wil convert to them? To force someone to change theri operating system just to be able to use a different browser or word processor would be suicide. It is the major apps – the games, the specialty business software – that make an OS, and make people choose. But the basic software – the browsers, the email, the spreadsheets – have influence in that the lack of them is conspicuous. If someone can change OS and stay with the same basic software, they will be happy. If someone can change the basic software they use, but stay with the same OS, they will be happier on the whole with that software – and be more willing later to change to another OS that can handle it. If a user has to change OS just to try out a new web browser, they will be far more likely to ignore this browser and stay with their current one (despite any regressions it may have) than to try to find all knew software for everything.
    To spread open source we should not be striving to build barriers to stop people coming. Instead, we should be blowing open doors, and inviting people through. Humans are naturally curious, and we need to feed on that curiosity by removing the risks people associate with it.

  8. Free software should be available on non-Free platforms, if only to prevent the open source community from becoming isolated and in-bred.

    Besides that, there are so many other reasons for making Free software as available as possible (some, though not all, listed here), that I’m surprised (and disappointed) that this argument is being treated seriously.

    [I also don’t like rms’s argument – it’s a bit arrogant to assume the commercial world isn’t capable of developing their own alternatives to existing Free software.]

  9. I am a windows user who is/has tried to switch to linux. I think having common apps is important. Right now, I can do everything I want to do in Windows. I wouldn’t mind switching to a free OS, but I can’t get it setup the way I want. Having proprietary software wouldn’t make it more worthwhile, because the fact is I can’t do it. In the meantime, I am loving setting up windows users with Firefox and Open Office, giving them free and more secure apps than they would normally have.

  10. I agree with Bill. I think it’s important to provide people with a smooth transition and if I can go from using the same browser, email, and office suite that will make the transition much smother.
    The other thing is that linux is still at the stage yet were most users (non-geeks) are apprehensive about changing.