There has been lots of recent discussions about open source and how that either helps or hinders proprietary software, depending on your point of view.
Open Source Software (OSS) is starting to gain more momentum:
- Firefox has almost 25% market share in December, 440 million downloads of Firefox 3.5
- OpenOffice has over 100 million downloads since launching version 3.0
Most folks may think they are open source users and contributing, but to download and use is not contributing, you must actively test and supply bug information with repeatable test cases. I know from experience that trying to narrow down and confirm bugs takes time and effort, especially when you need to remove all plugins and extensions to test the base program then add back on or having to search for the exact nightly build that caused the issue/bug regression.
Similarly a lot of the proprietary software world also thinks they are open source friendly but in reality only support Firefox 2.0 and in one bad case I know only on Windows!
Granted a lot of proprietary vendors code only for IE (and old IE at that) and MSOffice, given it’s large business use. However to ignore or pretend to be OSS friendly is a bad way to do business. Others think so too. At best it’s naive, at worst it’s lazy. I’ve seen plenty of code that either hard code specific browser rules or manually attribute document states in code.
It might be a quick way to get code out the door, but it’s not future proofing the code longevity. Although it probably does mean fat upgrade fees and unhappy customers.
The next big wave is making applications and tools available to a
variety of devices, not just computers but PDAs, iPhones, iTablets, eBooks and
anything that can connect via wifi. So while the luddites are making
code for IE and MS Office they’re missing a big growth sector and
making more work for themselves in the long run.
The best way for software developers (both open and closed source) to make sure their software works with a variety of browsers or other OSS is to download and test development builds. Most OSS sites have easy to find info on development builds and how to contribute:
It might take some initial effort to get up to speed, but that effort should save time and user frustration if your application suddenly breaks with a new release of software.
I know from several folks at Sun, be they involved in Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice or OpenSolaris that they’re very happy to have help and are usually generous with their time helping answer queries to get you started. This willingness to help is just one of the reasons I love the Sun community, the other big one is the sharing that goes on – especially on a multitude of topics as you can see by browsing the main blogs.sun.com page.
So lets all help each other to ensure Open Source is the big winner so that technology is the enabler to a sharing future and doesn’t exclude anyone.
Bootnote: Although generally thought of as Darwin’s words, “survival of the fittest” actually comes from Herbert Spencer, who summarized Darwins “natural selection”.