Firefox 3 Is Given to the World – Or Maybe Not

by Glyn Moody

As you may have noticed, Firefox 3 is released today. Excited by this prospect, the first thing I did when I got up was to rush to my computer to download it (yes, pathetic, I know). And what do I find? That only Firefox 2 is on offer. I go to the main Download Day 2008 site, and for all its flash/Flash zoomable graphics, I can't find any information about exactly when Firefox 3 will be publicly available, which seems crazy: the one thing this site should be doing is making it easy for as many people as possible to download Firefox 3.

The danger here is that like me, others may rush expectantly to download Firefox 3 as soon as they wake up today, only to find that it is not available – and that there is no explanation as to why that is. Is it because there's some last-minute hitch with Firefox 3? Did they get the day wrong? Was it all just a big con? In any case, the public perception of Firefox is unlike to benefit from this confusion. Not everyone will persist, as I did, trying to find out exactly what it going on.

The answer, when I finally found it, was surprising: Firefox 3 is not actually being launched today, it is being launched at 10 am PDT today.

So what? You might say. Well, just step back and think about the implications of that: 10 am PDT corresponds to 7 pm in Poland (one of the leading countries in terms of the numbers of people who have pledged to download Firefox 3 today), 10.30 pm in India, 1 am on Wednesday in Beijing, and 5 am Wednesday in New Zealand.

In other words, for the vast majority of the world, Firefox 3 is being launched inconveniently late on Tuesday or early on Wednesday. That means huge numbers of people will be kicking their heels for hours, waiting for the fateful moment when they can join in the global fun. I suspect that quite a few will get bored or find better things to do (like sleeping, maybe) before the great moment arrives.

If the launch is Tuesday, 17 June, and Firefox belongs truly to the world, the logical thing would be to launch it at the one time that is independent of specific locations: the moment when midnight passes on the International Date Line – the first place it becomes Tuesday, 17 June. That way, everyone, without favouring any geographical or national spot, could download Firefox 3 as they wake up – a suitably affimative way to begin the day. It would also be a natural way to spread the load on the download servers across the day.

Choosing 10 am PDT suggests a blinkered viewpoint – as if anything outside Silicon Valley is of secondary importance.

That's sad. One of the signal achievements is that Firefox – particular through the splendid SpreadFirefox site – has become a beacon of open, egalitarian participation, something shared excitedly between friends as a gift, rather than handed down from on high with august pomp and circumstance by the stern priests in the cathedral. Releasing Firefox 3 at 10 am PDT flies in the face of all that; it says that contributions to the open source Firefox are of course welcome from anyone, wherever they may be – but never forget where the true centre lies. Ignoring the obvious neutral solution is insensitive to all those people living in timezones well east of California, and strikes a discordant note on what should be a day of global harmony and celebration.

Glyn Moody writes about open source at opendotdotdot.

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