sab39

... indistinguishable from magic
effing the ineffable since 1977

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3/17/2005

Seems that the theme of the week is dropping support for "minority" software that is still widely used.

First Microsoft announces the end of mainstream support for VB6, then Mozilla announces that it will drop support for the venerable "Seamonkey" suite, then Debian drops support for a bunch of uncommon processor architectures.

Each of these, predictably, has led to flamewars and lots of noise.

I'm not negatively affected by any of these decisions: I saw the writing on the wall for Seamonkey more than a year ago and switched to Firefox; all my boxes are x86 (and most of them, sadly, are Windows for work reasons); and I wouldn't be caught dead programming in any variation of Visual Basic (with the exception that VBScript is still inexplicably the best-supported scripting language for Windows and so sometimes there's no choice).

It's interesting to compare and contrast the situations, though.

In the case of Seamonkey, after a lot of noise, some of the users stepped up to organize a community effort to keep the project alive. This appears to have gained considerable momentum in a very short time and could lead to a revitalization of the suite. If not, at least the suite will continue to be supported by someone, giving the affected users more time to make a gradual transition.

In the case of Debian, despite what almost seems to be a deliberate choice of flame-inducing nomenclature (of course nobody wants to be an officially designated "second-class citizen"), some productive discussions are beginning to spring up among the flames. It seems highly likely that the minority architectures will continue to be supported in some form.

In the case of VB, the affected developers can do nothing except humbly beg for Microsoft's assistance. After all, they can't support the language themselves - the code to it is only held by Microsoft. Microsoft is standing firm on its position that VB.NET is the future and VB6 will be unsupported.

What's really interesting about this situation is that in my humble opinion, in all of these cases the decision to drop support was the right thing to do. The Mozilla project has painfully limited resources for a project that's used by millions of people worldwide and it makes no sense to divert those resources to a product that (a) does exactly the same thing as their more widely used stuff, and (b) has a userbase in, what, the tens of thousands? Debian's oft-complained-about long release cycles and delays in getting new software into even unstable are caused in large part by trying to support software on three to eleven times as many architectures as the original upstream authors do. And in the case of Microsoft, VB6 was an abomination - the software equivalent of Vogons whose brains were originally diseased and mis-developed livers - and Microsoft's gutsy decision to finally attempt to rid the world of this plague can only make the world a better place.

Regardless, this situation is instructive for all those who hesitate to embrace open source software because "how do you know it's going to continue to be supported?" Which groups are better supported now, the ones who picked the Microsoft solution or the ones who picked open source?

You know you're a geek when...

Last week i saw someone on the train carrying a magazine called, for some reason, "Alter Hall". Decided that must be an SQL DDL command, you know - ALTER HALL ADD DOORWAY, ALTER HALL MODIFY CARPET, that kind of thing...


 
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