back to article FSF to Google: Free Gmail's JavaScript now!

The Free Software Foundation has called on Google to release Gmail's JavaScript code under a free software license, continuing its crusade to ensure that all "nonfree" software is eradicated from the world's computers. "We believe that computer users should be able to use their computer in freedom, and in order to do so, you …


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  1. sprouty76



    1. sprouty76


      For everybody downvoting me, can I suggest the aquisition of some type of calendar?

      1. Neil 7

        If this is an April Fools, then it's very poorly done

        Typically the author leaves a subtle clue in the story, but apart from the standard article date there's nothing in this piece to suggest it is in fact an April Fool (yes it is a silly story but then it is about about the FSF, so who knows...)

      2. Dave Murray

        Can I suggest the aquisition of some type of spectacles?

        "Posted in Developer, 31st March 2011 22:37 GMT"

        1. Neil 7

          My mistake - I thought it had been posted today (1 April) but neglected to double check

          So even less likely to be the April Fool that several here seem to think it is.

    2. Jad

      link to the article on the FSF website, dated the 30th March

  2. Anonymous Coward

    And how exactly are we going to upload our customisations?

    Maybe the FSF forgot something, but there is no mechanism by which Gmail users can upload modifications to the code, even if they had the means and knowhow to edit them.

    I agree it'd be nice if all code could be "free" (libre) but here it's just not practical. In this case, it'd mean Google having to store one copy of the Gmail API for each user who wanted to "tinker" with their installation. There's no way in hell it'd be wise to just let all users mess with the Gmail instance that all users rely on, as one malicious user could insert some code to screw it for all Gmail users. It'd be a security nightmare and I fully understand why Google would be reluctant to do this.

    That said, since there is IMAP, nothing stops you setting up your own web server somewhere (or buying web space), then installing an open-source web mail client such as RoundCube to access your GMail accounts.

    Perhaps the FSF could get into the advertising/web search market themselves with some decent search engine and set up their own competing service? Good luck to them I say.

    1. Pawel 1

      Not exactly

      No one is asking google to let users put their customisations on google servers - you can simply use a local proxy server or a browser plugin for swapping the code; it's more about philosophy - Stallman likes gmail, so he wants it consistent with his principles. He also may want to run an open source version on his own server.

      I don't think google will release gmail js as free software because there's not much incentive to do so except PR - they arguably have the best webmail interface you can find and some of their business depends on selling it as a service (google apps). They are unlikely to lose much if they released it under some copyleft or "non-commercial use" license so they might do it to remove bad smell coming from honeycomb.

    2. Old Handle

      It's not that hard

      If someone wanted to access Gmail with a modified JS interface, all they would have to do is use a proxy or browser extension to swap out Google's standard script for a custom one.

      I don't think anyone is asking Google for unrealistic commendations like you describe. All they want is Google to say "Okay, it's Free, do what you want with it." It's mostly a matter of principle as far as I can tell.

    3. Guus Leeuw

      Re: And how exactly are we going to upload our customisations

      Dear Sir,

      why are you obsessed with security in software development projects and released code, when it is oh so obvious that you do not know the slightest about software development cycles and processes?

      1st of April is meant to play jokes on world+dog. It is, however, not meant to show world+dog ...

      oh forget it...



  3. brym

    Bless your hippy mentality FSF,

    ...but do you honestly expect a multibillion dollar company to release all it's coding secrets, allowing any regular Joe to steal away a slice of their very profitable pie? Or how about those coders with malicious intent? You think they won't have a field day with Google code?

    Nice try and all that. But we're a long way from peace and love and good happiness stuff. As long as there's someone who is perceived as competition or a threat to Google, you'll never get all of Google's code. Even if you only refer to web apps.

    1. Pawel 1


      This code is already public - javascript, remember? Fsf isn't asking for the backend this time. It asks for permission to modify/reuse stuff already delivered in unobfuscated source code form

    2. J 3


      I hate to break it to you, but it sounds like you are not aware how JavaScript works... Coding secrets?

    3. djs

      Re: Bless your hippy mentality FSF

      There are no secrets here. The evil hax0rz can already read the javascript in question, as can the competition.

    4. Old Handle


      You do realize that although not free, any Javascript app is already "open" in the most trivial sense, right? It's an interpreted language. As such Google already releases the source code every time someone uses Gmail. Secrets are not the issue. Only whether people are allowed to reuse it for their own purposes.

  4. The MOTO

    Definition of freedom ...

    The FSF tells you they are all about being "free". Well the last time I checked my dictionary "free" had something to do with "not under the control or in the power of another". The FSF sure likes to tell companies and people how they should be doing things. Is that freedom? To me, it surely does not seem very "free".

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Oninoshiko

    Wow... just wow.

    I was originally going to post a comment suggesting a new elReg unit of measure, "the Stallman" as a measure of nuttyness, but then I realized it would be a moving target as he seems to be getting crazier by the year.

    Frankly the FSF's "what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine too" attitude is getting old.

    The only free software is in the public domain.

  6. Steven Knox

    Isn't JavaScript...

    by design open source? You download the source code to run it. Sure it may be obfuscated in some way, but it's still source code. It may not be free due to copyright, but it does meet a basic definition of open source.

    That's probably why FSF is stressing "free" in this case -- they know the source code is by design available so they want to focus on the other aspects of free software (i.e, reuse and community contributions.)

    1. djs

      Re: Isn't JavaScript...

      The FSF _NEVER_ use the term "Open Source", except when explaining why they don't use it. They are stressing "Free" because they always stress "free"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Nice try, but no :)

      Obfuscated code is only slightly more readable than decompiled machine code. And the important feature of open-source is the legal right to modify and redistribute.

      I half-agree with the FSF on this. Yes, closed-source JS is a threat to computing freedom. Gmail is a bad example though -- A) It's not just Javascript, there's the closed-source server side code, B) Google has a right to keep it closed, and C) I'm fine with that as long as I have IMAP/POP access to my data.

  7. Adus

    What business do they have telling people what to do?`

    I really don't understand this attitude. As a programmer, I feel that the author of a given piece of code should be able to determine what they want to do with it. What business does anyone else have telling people how to use their own code?

    If Google want to release the code, that's great - I'm not against open source. However, no one should try to force others to release their code just because they have some political belief, it's absurd. Google invested considerable time and resources into writing that code, and if they want to keep it to themselves they should be well within their rights to do it.

    What have the FSF invested in that code exactly? Nothing. Google is a business, they employ people who want paying and in order to do that they need to make money, if their business model means they can't/don't want to release the code, that's fine.

    1. Steen Hive


      "I really don't understand this attitude. As a programmer..........",


      The FSF promotes Free Software. You presumably wouldn't have a problem with people in other areas of life encouraging corporations to be community-spirited and build things like children's play areas for the public or lobbying for disabled access to premises, or other things that contribute to communities - why is it a problem when it comes to software?


      "What have the FSF invested in that code exactly? Nothing."


      As a "programmer" you'll know what gcc, emacs, gpg, and countless other tools are. There is a very high probability all these lovely Javascript interpreters, bytecode compilers and nearly everything else that comprises the infrastructure for the gmail platform, uses or is developed with all of the above in spades.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Goat Jam

          Logic FAIL

          "By that logic, the fact I use word to write a document means somehow Microsoft have invested in my writing"

          Ummm, not unless MS gave you a copy of Word for free.

  8. Steen Hive

    Closed-Source JS?

    "That's right, it wants the code open sourced, but this being the Free Software Foundation, it prefers the term free software."


    Why can't even writers for IT publications get the difference between "Open-Source" and "Free Software"? - it's clear as day.

    Javascript, as far as this sort of thing is concerned, is interpreted on a client machine - the source code is staring you in the face! That doesn't make it free to use, free to modify, distribute and free from both patent encumbrance and proprietary taint.


    Mild mocking of RMS et. al based on an erroneous postulate is a bit lame. You think promoting free software is a stupid idea?, fine - make your case on that instead.

    1. Guus Leeuw
      Thumb Up

      Re: Closed-Source JS

      Dear Sir,

      Source code staring you in the face doesn't make the code open source!

      As much as I like your (implicit) definition of "free software", for a piece of software to be open source, people have to have the ability to submit modifications. Otherwise it is just unobfuscated source code...


      Guus Leeuw

      1. Steen Hive


        I would mostly disagree with that definition of "Open" - I prefer a narrower definition. Sure there are various degrees of "open" and various degrees of "free" - and often in the world of software these definitions overlap. But the ability to contribute to development I would count as a "freedom" . The reasoning behind this is that taking the converse "closed-source" generally means that the source-code is unavailable to the general public.


        "Open-source" should be used as an antonym to "closed-source" and "Free Software" should be used more as an antonym to "proprietary", I suppose.

        1. djs

          Re: @Guus

          The OSI disagree with you.

          The FSF say that you have fallen into the open source trap.

          I merely point and laugh.

          You probably don't care either way :-p

          1. The First Dave

            @djs @Guus

            The OSI can (and frequently do) disagree with anyone and everyone, but that doesn't make the point correct:

            Open Source has a simple meaning.

            Free Software does too. Shame the OSI prefer to use them the other way around.

  9. Turtle

    Freedom. . . .

    "Stallman and his followers are not concerned with the freedom of what they call "trivial" JavaScript – code that runs, say, a small animation."

    What is *really* trivial here, is the kind of "freedom" for which $tallman and the F$F crusade.

  10. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Nice one!

    It seems always April 1st to the FSF!

  11. JDX Gold badge

    Open letter to Mr. Stallman...

    Get a life.

  12. bitten

    A preachers boy

    The new religious: sinful code should be purified so that believers can use it without damning their soul

  13. Neil 7

    Wouldn't the easiest solution

    be to avoid GMail?

    If you don't want non-free code (even if it is Javascript) running on your computer, then don't use those services that you know to use non-free code.

    I'm a supporter of open source and FOSS, but I'm really not comfortable with the FSF getting on their high-horse and telling Google to open source their application code simply because an FSF zealot wants to use a Google service without experiencing a moral crisis.

    1. Jon 37

      @Neil 7

      I agree.

      MS own the code for Outlook. If you want to use Outlook, you have to agree to the MS license. If you don't like the license for idealogical reasons, then don't use MS Outlook - there are plenty of Free Software e-mail clients.

      Google own the code for GMail. If you want to use GMail, you have to agree to Google's license. If you don't like the license for idealogical reasons, then don't use GMail - there are plenty of Free Software e-mail clients.

      Just because it's written in JavaScript rather than C++ doesn't change anything. (Although it does make the "install" step easier - you just go to a website).

      And if you think that GMail is better than the Free Software e-mail clients, then why is that Google's problem?

  14. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    ;-) + letters or d1g1ts


    Nice one

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Nice one

      Apparently not.

  15. x4zYYvb3

    "If you turn off Gmail JavaScript," Lee tells us, "you can't use Gmail."

    This must be an April Fool, as anyone who has used Gmail from a javascript free browser will be aware of the pure HTML version of Gmail. It doesn't have all the chat functionality etc of the javascript version but emailing, and many other things work just fine.

  16. david 63

    FSF, a simple choice...

    ...turn off Javascript or be sullied by using non-free software.

    Oh sorry that wouldn't satisfy your deperate need to be noticed. Perhaps you didn't get enough cuddles when you were young.

    Help yourself to a pint of grow the fuck up.

  17. Tim 8

    "You may be running nonfree programs on your computer every day without realizing it –"

    OH the humanity!

    Eesh. Just be honest and call it a religion.

  18. kurkosdr

    The FSF is funny sometimes...

    The FSF basically goes and tells corporations "If you don't free up the code, we won't play".

    "Well then, don't play! We 'll just play with the rest of the kids, and you can stay alone in your corner"

    In fact, many FSF believers (i say 'believers' because free software is obviously a cult) think it's cool to isolate themselves from awesome technology like the PS3 or Mac OS X, just because it isn't "free".

    Well dear FSF believers, Sony and Apple don't care. They have better customers that don't mind about all that "free" fluff.

    Oh, and btw, proprietary software isn't immoral just because some bitter old man with a beard declared it is. DRMed software might be, but non-DRMed proprietary software is not.

    In the same way that women who don't cover their faces are not immoral just because some believes of Islam say the are.

  19. Dodgy Dave

    May I propose 'GNU purifier'

    ... which is a web proxy sitting between Google and your browser. It's loaded up with a bunch of patch files which it applies as the JavaScript is being fetched, before your browser sees them. The code that actually executes is therefore 'free' and you can use gmail without becoming ritually unclean.

  20. Bob 18

    Change Tactics, PLEASE

    I respect the FSF's mission, but think that this tactic is misplaced.

    GMail is essentially a client-server application. The client is written in JavaScript, and the server is embedded in Google's back-end infrastructure. The protocol between the two is proprietary and undocumented.

    Google wrote its own email protocol because POP and IMAP, while standard, do not meet the needs of what people really want to do today. By throwing out the standards, they build a better end-user experience. This is not so different from the way Microsoft built its own proprietary email protocols in the past.

    The most valuable thing the FSF could do here would be to:

    1. Get people talking about standardized advanced-functionality email protocols, beyond POP/IMAP. Then we could all start building advanced email clients and servers with the great features that GMail has.

    2. If they're going to prod Google to open something up, they should be asking for the protocol, not the JavaScript client. All they're going to get from the client is a bunch of GUI and network interface code that gives little insight of the actual heavy lifting going on behind the scenes. But realistically, the protocol probably won't give much more anyway.

    The GMail back-end is what would really be interesting. But I sincerely doubt Google would even THINK of open-sourcing the GMail back-end. FSF should just start a project to write that kind of stuff itself.

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