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Re: Web versions

From: Jacob Bachmeyer
Subject: Re: Web versions
Date: Mon, 15 Mar 2021 21:02:33 -0500
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux x86_64; en-US; rv: Gecko/20090807 MultiZilla/ SeaMonkey/1.1.17 Mnenhy/

Colby Russell wrote:
Consider this passage from The JavaScript Trap:

    If the program is self-contained [...] you can copy it to a file on
    your machine, modify it, and visit that file with a browser to run
    it.  But that is an unusual case.

In particular, consider the irony of it, in light of the way this
discussion has gone.  In this discussion, it has been you all who would
bear responsibility for this case remaining "unusual": by continually
invoking the web app canard and responding to imagined caricatures of
the arguments being sent your way, rather than the actual arguments

The original message that started this discussion was a request to port all GNU packages to WebAssembly targets.

As I understand, that is not currently technically feasible because WebAssembly does not offer the APIs that most GNU packages use. I further suggest that making it feasible would be a bad idea because that would effectively remove the browser sandbox.

One of the rationales presented to me (off-list) for this was that a WebAssembly port of GNU could be run as a web app and therefore be "always up-to-date" and I answered that removing the option to continue using an old (possibly customized) version from the user, as that would do, is wrong.

In short:
1. Most GNU packages are written to POSIX API, possibly with GNU extensions. 2. Browsers do not offer POSIX API to JS/WebAssembly for very good reasons. 3. Web apps stored on "the cloud" are bad because they often do not respect the user's freedoms, as even if the software is under Free license terms, technical issues can make running a modified version difficult or impossible.

Porting to "the Web" is simply not practical or appropriate for most GNU software. This does not exclude the possibility of writing useful Free software for "the Web" but the GNU project is focused on the GNU operating system.

The GNU operating system is not supposed to depend on external network resources for routine operation. I believe that "Who Does That Server Really Serve?" better applies to these issues than "The JavaScript Trap" does: the former warns against relying on systems outside of the user's control, even if those systems are also running Free software, while the latter applies to a widespread means of "sneaking" non-free software into otherwise-Free environments under the user's proverbial nose.

-- Jacob

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