Free Software Foundation to Google: free Gmail's JavaScript

By on April 1, 2011, 2:03 PM
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.

User Comments: 6

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dotVezz said:

Hmm... an interesting proposition. I want to say I'm neutral, but I'm afraid I'm kind of against making changes to gmail. I'm a creature of habit, and if my inbox gets changed again, I won't be happy.

Of course they could probably comply to this (if they even care to) and do it without changing the user experience. In that case, I'd be okay with it...

tonylukac said:

Use imap and, for example, Outlook. That doesn't run ANY java script  for Gmail. That's how I run my Gmail. Get some use out of that expensive Office product.

Guest said:

>FSF wants Google to develop a "basic HTML" version of Gmail, which does not rely on heavy java script  to build the user interface

Err.. this already exists. Just look at the bottom of your Gmail page and click on "basic HTML". This version works without java script  at all.

If the FSF folks want Gmail without java script , it's right there! It does exactly what they want. Or they could use IMAP or POP3 with an open source --- *cough* sorry "Free Software" --- email client. Or they could not use Gmail if they don't like it.

This is pathetic and ridiculous.

Mizzou Mizzou said:

The very premise of this organization is ludicrous. You will note on their home page a Donate tab which promptly advises you that they're willing to accept your major card (or issue you a FSF card) to help support the cause. Well, if everything is supposed to free ... why do they need your money?

Win7Dev said:

Umm... They just named a whole bunch of things that run server-side. Its not really a comparable argument.

Guest said:

use windows live hotmail; it's free

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