Monday, January 24, 2022 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Apple Did Not Crowdfund :focus-visible in Safari

Eric Meyer:

A few people, including Jen Simmons, gave credit to Igalia for implementing :focus-visible by means of a crowdfunding project (more on that in a moment).

[…]

Nobody at Apple asked the crowd to fund anything. Nobody at Apple asked Igalia to crowdfund anything. They didn’t even ask Igalia to implement :focus-visible, and then Igalia decided to crowdfund the work. In fact, all of those assumptions get things almost exactly backwards — which is understandable! It’s what we expect from our experience of how the web has developed since at least the late 1990s. But here, something new happened.

[…]

Of its own volition, Igalia decided to experiment with the idea of letting the web community (the “crowd”) vote for implementation of a missing browser feature with their wallets (the “funding”).

Update (2022-01-25): Jason Snell:

I sure wish I could crowdfund features that Apple doesn’t care about in my favorite apps and have Apple add them to its code base! But only in very particular circumstances—when there’s an open-source project at the core—can it happen. And yet when it happened in this case, the reaction in some quarters was to complain. Why am I not surprised?

10 Comments

It's certainly true that a lot of the "KABOOM" surrounding this is driven by Twitter making it very easy to stir up a storm of reactions to context-free news fragments. On the other hand, for web developers, WebKit/Safari (and web browsers in general) is not just their "favorite app" but a crucial part of our whole modern infrastructure that is the web platform. And from all of these reactions, it's increasingly clear that Apple has put itself in a position where a lot of web developers are not inclined to view the company's actions (and the constellation of news that surrounds them) with the same level of charity that members of the Apple fan community (or Apple's own employees) do.

All of which is why I sort of wish this story was framed less as "Apple Bad" or "people being Wrong On The Internet" and more about, say, the general problem of big corporations exerting control over open source projects, or even specifically how Apple's culture of secrecy conflicts with the, you know, openness of open source culture.

Old Unix Geek

Crowdfunding to make a 3 trillion dollar corporation's products work properly is a good idea? Taking from the poor to give to the rich is virtuous? Strange kind of ethics advocated there.

It's pretty obvious why this goes against most (surviving) ethics. Tribes in which people give to the poor tended to survive longer than tribes in which the poor give to the rich who already have enough to survive, because the poor are those who are the least likely to survive.

> work properly

Safari doesn't "work improperly". This work adds a spec which is currently in draft status, i.e. it isn't even a standard yet.

> Taking from the poor to give to the rich is virtuous?

Uh, OK. Apparently, we've gone full circle, and contributing to an OSS project is now bad because a corporation could've done the work instead?

A company has been contributing patches. This time, it decided to instead let users prioritize features by crowdsourcing money. As Eric says, Apple doesn't really have anything to do with that entire process other than to review the patches.

There's no bad guy in this story, in my book.

I was referring to "I sure wish I could crowdfund features that Apple doesn’t care about in my favorite apps and have Apple add them to its code base!"

OK. Suppose, hypothetically, that Apple were to open-source the Home app. Would we be complaining about how Apple is too stingy to properly invest in it, or would we be happy that we can simply fix some of the glaring issues ourselves? (Both, I guess?)

Old Unix Geek

The reason WebKit is open-source is that it was part of KDE on Linux, and parts of it are LGPL'd. It's not as if Apple open-sourced it.

If Apple doesn't want to fix their software, it is not up to others to do it for them. That's why I don't report bugs to them. If they stop investing in their software, they should suffer the consequences: unhappy customers.

"Safari doesn't "work improperly"."

I think you'll find that many web developers will vehemently disagree with this assessment.

I guess I don't really care too much about this either way. Apple didn't do anything other than fork an open-source project, and not maintain their fork properly. The fact that people are now paying to fix stuff Apple doesn't bother with isn't exactly Apple's problem.

I do wish they'd send that money to Mozilla instead, though.

>The reason WebKit is open-source is that it was part of KDE on Linux, and parts of it are LGPL'd. It's not as if Apple open-sourced it.

First, we don't really know that. Apple did, for example, open-source Swift. Apple could've also kept doing what they did for the first few years: occasionally spit out a tarball matching the current state of the WebKit source, and be LGPL-compliant, while not really opening up the project to a community. Then (around 2005?), they did.

I'm not trying to make Apple an open-source hero here; they're kind of hit-and-miss at it (some teams seem to push for it, and others not at all).

>I do wish they'd send that money to Mozilla instead, though.

Eric's post mentions two Firefox proposals for crowdfunding.

It seems to me that the open sourcing of Swift had to do with trying to make Swift a more mainstream language that would also be used on servers. Probably because Objective-C didn't benefit from being so niche despite being a language with good ideas in it. I.e. it was tactical.

The rare spitting out of a tarball followed the letter but not spirit of the license, in my opinion. I'm glad they stopped doing that. 2004/2005 sounds about right. IIRC, Chrome used and contributed to their branch for a while back then. So it might have been tactical too.

>It seems to me that the open sourcing of Swift had to do with trying to make Swift a more mainstream language that would also be used on servers.

Maybe (that part, so far, hasn't really worked out).

I think it was also simply about attracting a certain community of developers. One can argue that open-sourcing a language these days is table stakes.

>The rare spitting out of a tarball followed the letter but not spirit of the license, in my opinion.

Yes, absolutely.

>IIRC, Chrome used and contributed to their branch for a while back then.

Chrome launched several years later, but I don't know when Google started prototyping it. They may have done so in the tarball phase, but perhaps Apple re-tooling WebKit as a community project was the spark that made someone at Google experiment with it.

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