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Thread: Web browser written in BASIC?

  1. #1

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    Lightbulb Web browser written in BASIC?

    With the retreat of Firefox to the Dark Side, I'm beginning to perceive the need for a web browser written in BASIC.

    Why a new web browser, and why in BASIC?

    At current there are a handful of major web browser in existence, owing to 4 or 5 basic engines. Each of these engines is written in C/C++ and are enormously complicated. Compilation takes something on the order of 2 hrs or longer. To this day no serious forks of the engines exist that do not have a quarter million or more dollars behind them. Understanding how to edit the code without destroying the whole system is a career in itself. Although open source, they are only just, because nobody outside the upper echelons of these projects understand them. Source documentation is not only lacking, but discouraged because of the perceived security advantages of obfusticated code (there are of course a number of counter-arguments to this position). To work with the Firefox code base, you either need years of free time, or the willing tutelage of people who work with it (which is only granted on a need-to-know basis).

    Mozilla itself was something of a disingenuous quantity from the beginning. Created by Netscape as a last ditch cost-cutting exercise after losing the browser war to Microsoft, Mozilla paraded itself as a non-profit but has never really been this. Netscape subsisted on its server applications for a while and funded Mozilla as a community front. After Netscape failed completely in the early-2ks, it was bought by AOL and continued to fund its subsidary under AOL's umbrella until Google, believing it needed protection from Microsoft, made an alliance with Mozilla that resulted in its becoming self-sufficient. Following this, Google paid Mozilla to develop the Firefox source base while poaching its staff (Chrome and Webkit emerging as the ultimate outcomes of these). When Chrome's market share eclipsed Firefox, Google judged it no longer had use for Mozilla and abandoned it financially, leading to its alliance in desperation with Yahoo.

    Mozilla's actions of late can thus be placed in the context of its financial straits. Browser technology in general has reached a point of maturity, the development of HTML 5 (under Google's tutelage) leading to speed and capability rivaling Java. HTML 5 is itself Google's instrument to attack Oracle, now the owner of Java, under cover of public grace. Mozilla's ill-fated gambit to obtain financial independence by competing with Google in the mobile phone market threatened Android, of course, but lack of financial backing has stunted this effort. Now Mozilla has no choice but to leverage market share and to do that it is desperately trying to imitate Chrome (and, it hopes, its success).

    To understand why this gambit will fail, it is important to understand why IE began to falter in the first place. Businesses switched to Firefox to escape the viral epidemic that assaulted IE in 2003, but home users had already begun to rebel against as a part of the liberal outrage over the Iraq war. Microsoft was allied with the Bush Admin and thus was liable for its wars. Only a couple months ago the Guardian assailed Bill Gates' philanthropic foundations for their investments in fossil fuel companies. The left has no love for Microsoft, which they perceive as arrogant, and more and more Chrome's gains are a symptom of its troubles with the left. Google is itself a very left-wing company, stacked to the brim with veterans of the Obama admin and a very strong source of funding for left-wing causes besides.

    I will never really understand why Google attacked Mozilla by creating Chrome, and I consider it their greatest strategic blunder. What is clear to me is that Chrome is competing, whether they realize it or not, over the anti-war crowd exclusively. I know many Republicans and they all use IE. "The big 'E'" is what they call it, which they distinguish from "hippie" Google and "unreliable" Firefox. Ever since Bush arranged for the Justice Dept. to drop its anti-trust suit against Microsoft, Republicans have treated them with esteem. Its Xbox console catered almost exclusively to the military crowd, and to this day the Xbox series lineup is overwhelmingly slanted towards "rough-and-tough" Republican consumers. Microsoft has a lock on the social and cultural conservatives, leaving Google, Apple, and Firefox to duke it out among the rest. In fairness to Mozilla, not all the people who use Firefox are liberals. Some are libertarians who fear or simply disagree with Microsoft's dominance. However as Chrome gains steam, it seems clear that users of Firefox and Chrome are diverging along this libertarian/liberal divide.

    I identify as liberal, so why then do I not advocate Chrome? My primary rationale is its dependence on the cloud. Chrome prohibits access to the local file system from within itself -- not even extensions can access local files through it. To access local files in Chrome, users must start it with a cumbersome command-line switch, and even then the app must compel users to manage a "sandbox" with strict quotas. Google offers app developers a choice of either the cloud, Microsoft, or theirs/Apple's mobile app store. For most people, the cloud is prohibitively risky and expensive. Microsoft has demonstrated a pattern of indifference as to whether apps made for Windows run from one version to the next, or even whether source bases remain compatible between language versions, and they add $100 to the base cost of PCs besides, which limits adoption and forces users into the Google/Apple ecosystem. Google and Apple both force apps to compete with each other by forcing the installation of part of their apps to the on-board storage of their devices. There is always Linux but serious efforts to push it just haven't been there. We have Mozilla Firefox which has been up till now the only independent, cross-platform solution for app developers, and now with its extension crackdown even that is about to be lost to us.

    Mozilla bleeds share by the month; as it declines, Yahoo and others lose interest in propping it up. When it meets Safari in 2-3 years it will probably drop off into oblivion altogether. As Mozilla passes so will knowledge of its security architecture, which will make patching it impossible. Its forks will vanish, and all that will be left standing is Microsoft and the Chromium/Webkit architectures with all their inherent, Googlesoft-approved limitations.

    We make our stand here, or we go directly into the dark, unforgiving night. Both Microsoft and Google are powerful enough to intimidate, coerce, and to bribe, so any project which challenges them must be accessible to as many potential contributors as possible. Only BASIC has the structure to compel readable code, which is essential for the long-term viability of a project with such powerful enemies (of course, readable code is also secure, reliable code). The determination to break with the pack also allows a degree of freedom beyond Google's immediate interests in that we can offer non-standard functionality. We can make the web what we want it to be and debate with Google on equal footing on how it should work and what it should do. Given the trends in the industry today, of which Mozilla's crackdown is only the latest culmination, I do not believe we have much choice. We are rapidly moving towards a position whereat most users are legally and practically prohibited from running software unsanctioned by the providers of their operating system, a situation without precedence in the history of personal computing. It looks, in fact, very much like the presidential electoral process in Iran.

    We need an alternative to the status quo and we need it now, and there is little doubt to my mind that BASIC must play a leading role in the creation of this alternative.

  2. #2
    Super Moderator FunkyDexter's Avatar
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    Re: Web browser written in BASIC?

    Just to be clear, are you trying to start a collaborative project with other members of the forum? If so you've posted in exactly the right place.

    However I hope you'll forgive me if I say your post does read as a bit of a rant. If all you were doing was looking to let off steam about the state of the software market then we have a chit chat section or a general developer where your post might be more appropriate (depending on whether you want to generate a serious discussion or a more fun one).

    What's your goal? I'll make sure your thread ends up in the right place.
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  3. #3

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    Re: Web browser written in BASIC?

    Well I made good on the ambition and started a project in FreeBASIC with windows9 GUI lib. Got 1000 lines of code so far (counting whitespace) and have implemented most of HTML 3 with accompanying DOM. I'm aiming for a modular approach: everything will be dll driven -- modular and swappable --, so the user will be able to build their own browser. I'm also going to make a wiki outlining my methods.

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