Open Source Poster Boy Speaks

>Blake Ross appears on our cover this month. He's the wunderkind who helped to create the immensely popular Mozilla Firefox browser from the ashes of Netscape Communications Corp.'s doomed product—after it was crushed by Microsoft Corp. in the late Nineties. In "The Firefox Kid", contributing editor David Kushner profiles Ross and lets us in on his most-recent project.

Ross told Kushner that, after working on Firefox, he wanted to explore the essential question: What's bad about today's software? The answer, he and his programming partner, Joe Hewitt (one of the original Firefox engineers) decided, resided in the gap between the desktop and the Web. "Right now, people want to shuffle around content, but the world's fused together by a collection of hacks," Ross noted. "Something that should be simple, say, getting photos from a digital camera onto the Web, is a Sisyphean task for most people. Step back and ask, 'What's wrong with this picture?'".

Kushner writes:

The problem, according to Ross, is there's no simple, cohesive tool to help people store and share their creations online. Currently, the steps involved depend on the medium. If you want to upload photos, for example, you have to dump your images into one folder, then transfer them to an image-sharing site such as Flickr. The process for moving videos to YouTube or a similar site is completely different. If you want to make a personal Web page within an online community, you have to join a social network, say, MySpace or Friendster. If you intend to rant about politics or movies, you launch a blog and link up to it from your other pages. The mess of the Web, in other words, leaves you trapped in one big tangle of actions, service providers, and applications.

Ross and Hewitt work now on an effort called Parakey, a "Web operating system that can do everything an OS can do. Parakey is designed to exist on the Web and on the desktop at the same time," according to its creators. "[Parakey] is launching with profit in mind," Kushner writes. "While many of the details remain under wraps, the idea is to roll out initially with a single application, such as the photo system, which will demonstrate how the platform can be exploited. Once all the infrastructure is in place and scalable, they'll make a more concerted play to involve outside developers, probably around January."

Their project has its doubters, but it's hard to argue with the work these young men have done to date. Skeptics should be wary. Anyone who has taken on the Redmond giant has paid in the past. These remarkable young men—with a lot of help—have not been, thus far, victimized. We wish them well in their efforts, without bias.

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