In a startling move, a favorite platform of mine for delivering no-install open source applications on Windows has thrown open the doors to adding freeware -- non-open source apps -- to their collection. Did the planets fall out of alignment when I wasn't looking?
Most people who read this blog should know I've been a giant fan of the PortableApps collection. They collect some of the very best open source apps on Windows into a single package, and let you deploy it from a removable drive (or from a directory on your PC) without needing to formally install any of them. It's next to impossible to go wrong with this suite; I recommend it enthusiastically to just about everyone with a Windows PC. It goes where I go.
The PA team (John Haller, in particular) have long insisted on certain standards for the suite -- not least of which being that the software they repackage and distribute for PortableApps be, and remain, open source. But in an announcement last week, they declared they would now allow freeware -- non-open source apps that are still enormously popular -- to be added to a PortableApps install. Among the apps provided were Skype 4.1 and µTorrent 1.8.4.
The way they did this was simple: they don't actually distribute any of the software in question. They simply provide you with a downloader, which obtains and unpacks the program in question into your PortableApps install. This avoids the whole thorny legal mess of redistributing someone else's software -- all they're doing is making it easier for the end user to install the program. The PortableApps site can be browsed so that only pure open source apps are visible, if you'd rather just stick with those.
Their rationale for doing this was the most interesting part:
Keeping an open platform and allowing all software to compete on a level playing field just makes sense. Many users have some 'favorite' software of theirs and they won't consider moving to a platform that doesn't have it, no matter how logical your argument that X software is nearly equivalent. This is one of the reasons so many users who don't know much (or don't care much) about open source refuse to move to Linux. "It doesn't have PhotoShop. I can't play my favorite games." What if Linux *did* have PhotoShop and their favorite games?
Two big reasons Photoshop and most commercial games don't exist in Linux-native editions: a) the market share is still extremely small compared to Windows or even the Mac, and b) Linux is built under the assumption that all software distributed and run there is available as source. I see both of these things as heavily interdependent, and until one of them changes (either one, really) the other won't budge.
Putting that aside, though, the above argument is difficult to dismiss. The end user loves his apps of choice. Even though some of those apps are now Facebook and Twitter (and theoretically run anywhere where there's a browser), there are still plenty that aren't.
The more ways there are to use the apps you want on the platform you want, the better. John Haller and his associates deserve a tip of the hat for making this all the more possible.
InformationWeek and Dr. Dobb's have published an in-depth report on how Web application development is moving to online platforms. Download the report here (registration required).