S Aufrecht

The JavaScript Trap

Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation make a very good point, that if you browse to something like Google Office, it downloads a proprietary program onto your computer, so that even though you may be using only free software on your computer (e.g., linux, firefox) and the program is in an open language (javascript), you still end up with a non-free program. They go on to propose some simple conventions to help avoid this.

But in the middle of making the point, some inflammatory language appears:

The term "web application" was designed to disregard the fundamental distinction between software delivered to users and software running on the server.

I use the term web application myself, and I don't use it in order to disregard the fundamental distinction between local and remote software. I use it because it accurately describes most of the programs I work on, programs which are complicated enough that "web site" is misleading, and which users interact with via web browsers instead of local desktop applications. I don't feel like a useful idiot or dupe of nefarious forces who "designed" the term to obscure an innate distinction with implications for freedom. I suspect the people who coined and popularized the term had the same motive that I do using it: it is an accurate and terse description of a type of software. It wasn't designed to obscure a distinction; instead, it describes a situation in which changes in technology have blurred what was previously a fairly sharp distinction.

I find it useful to be reminded that many web applications have a substantial (or perhaps any) downloaded component, and that that may not be free. The rest of the article is very helpful and very reasonably worded; why did this slip through?