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Mozilla speaks out against the free-but-proprietary Web apps

Using "free" software that is not "open" can become a one-way ticket to technology prison. Yes, we're looking at technologies such as Adobe's Flash and Microsoft's Silverlight.

Mozilla Europe's founder, Tristan Nitot, has no problem with free software. Indeed, his organization has created some of the best of it. But when software technologies like Adobe Systems' Flash and Microsoft's Silverlight are free but proprietary, they can create all sorts of problems. "Free" without "open" can become a one-way ticket to technology prison.

Adobe has recently taken steps to open up its Flash technology, but Nitot's concern is still valid:

He described the nature of the Web at the moment as open but suggested that "proprietary solutions running on top of the Web are trying to take over"..."So far, there has not been a problem," Nitot said. "Both Adobe and Microsoft have been willing to give (Flash and Silverlight away) for free. But maybe they have an agenda. They're not here for the glory; they're here for the money."

Nitot gave two historical examples of Microsoft and Adobe withdrawing or withholding products from certain platforms: Microsoft's discontinuation of Internet Explorer for Unix and Mac, and Adobe's long-standing refusal to "provide a recent version of Flash for Linux users." He suggested that Web developers should be asking those companies whether they are "sure that Silverlight and Flash will always be available on all platforms (and) run decently on all platforms."

It's a good point. Internet Explorer has done the industry a disservice by providing a one-way gate into Microsoft technologies. Indeed, this is consistent with Microsoft's history of requiring all of its technology to lead into Redmond--and rarely out.

There's one very easy way to resolve the tension: open source. Open standards are a nice start, but they provide no way to guarantee the future openness of a product. Only open source leaves the gate free to swing both in and out of a technology.

In short, open source is a good way to ensure that "free" doesn't come to mean "prison."