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Chris Harvey

Chris Harvey


Stallman on the Javascript Trap

This week Richard Stallman has added to his earlier comments about web-based (so-called cloud) applications, which are mostly written in JavaScript, but sometimes in Flash. Stallman wants people to run free software so that they can read and change the source code and share the results. As Stallman explains these cloud apps don’t provide for that. They just download huge chunks of code to your PC without even telling you;

For instance, Google Docs downloads into your machine a Javascript program which measures half a megabyte, in a compacted form that we could call Obfuscript because it has no comments and hardly any whitespace, and the method names are one letter long. The source code of a program is the preferred form for modifying it; the compacted code is not source code and the real source code of this program is not available to the user.

Browsers don’t normally tell you when they load Javascript programs. Most browsers have a way to turn off Javascript entirely, but none of them can check for Javascript programs that are nontrivial and non-free. Even if you’re aware of this issue, it would take you considerable trouble to identify and then block those programs. However, even in the free software community most users are not aware of this issue; the browsers’ silence tends to conceal it.

Stallman sends a clear message to anyone who believes in free and open source software that online web based applications are not free.

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