Free Software Foundation to Google: free Gmail's JavaScript

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The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has launched a new initiative in the form of a series of features that explain how to use common websites without using proprietary JavaScript. The organization wants to protect users from what it calls The JavaScript Trap, in reference to proprietary software running inside your browser. The first target is Google's Gmail service.

FSF explains that as JavaScript becomes more and more powerful, it has the potential to do more and more harm to a user's computer. In certain cases of new found vulnerabilities, companies advise customers to temporarily disable JavaScript in their browser while waiting for the security fix.

FSF argues that users should thus be able to see what the code running on their computers is actually doing, and change it if necessary. The group also argues that many sites, such as Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter rely on JavaScript too much, when they don't need to (as demonstrated by their mobile sites). Where there is a useful need for JavaScript, it should be released as free software, and where JavaScript provides an optional enhancement, a basic version of a site that doesn't rely on JavaScript can be provided.

In short, FSF wants Google to develop a "basic HTML" version of Gmail, which does not rely on heavy JavaScript to build the user interface. If you use Gmail, FSF wants you to ask Google to take the next step towards making Gmail free software friendly by releasing the JavaScript for Gmail under a free software license.

"When you visit a website such as Gmail, your browser will download and run several thousand lines of JavaScript code," an FSF spokesperson said in a statement. "JavaScript code is no different to languages like Python, C++ or Ruby applications written in those languages running on our computers should be free software, so we can run, modify and share them if we wish. JavaScript today is not the JavaScript of the past it is now used to write powerful, server-side applications thanks to free software like Node.js and the V8 JavaScript engine."

Frankly, we understand FSF's argument but we're not sure it's valid. If the code for JavaScript were to be provided to the public, we don't see why all code in all other languages shouldn't be as well. Then again, that's FSF's goal: for all software to be released under a free software license.

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