I am always surprised when a new web browser is launched, not because it is a crowded market in which competition is fierce, though that is true. It is not because trying to take on the likes of Microsoft, Google, Mozilla and Apple is a game that is unlikely to be won, though it is true. The reason I am always surprised when a new web browser is launched is because I don't know why anyone makes a web browser at all.
Microsoft, Google and Apple all have a wide array of products which are revenue generating. They include operating systems, productivity suites, cloud offerings. All of these things help keep these companies in business. Web browsers, on the other hand, are not directly revenue generating. In fact, they require a tremendous amount of resources and, in general, only lead to people feeling contempt for the publisher when the browser doesn't work exactly as expected.
So, why does someone build a browser at all? Outside of the big three, it tends to be for recognition or out of legitimate interest in making the web a better place. Unfortunately there is no real way to do that without a better governing organization than the World Wide Web Consortium, but companies like BitTorrent attempt it anyway. With the beta release of their Project Maelstrom, BitTorrent has an idea to get around some of the mistakes of the W3C.
While the browser can access standard HTTP/HTTPS sites, it can do more than that. It is capable of browsing websites packaged and distributed as torrents. The browser is Chromium-based, but will not directly support Chrome extensions or Web Store apps, though they will likely run without issue.
The rendering engine is not the important thing here, however. If you want the Chrome engine you can always install Chrome. The aspect that makes this interesting is the concept of circumventing the traditional web protocol. By running the web via torrents, this browser has the ability to create a new version of the web - one in which sites never go down. The thing that BitTorrent is trying to fix here is DDoS attacks.
If a server were to fail due to DDoS, for example, the browser can still have access to the data from before the failure through the use of torrents. The problem with this is that developers have to get behind the idea to make this work. The browser cannot take an existing website and pack it into a torrent - a developer has to release their site as a torrent. BitTorrent says they have had a healthy interest from some 10,000 developers and 3,500 publishers. Interest does not always translate into actions, however.
BitTorrent has released a Windows beta of the browser, available now, as well as a collection of developer tools for publishers. They will release a Mac beta soon and have no plans for a Linux release. There has been no discussion of a Windows Phone, iOS or Android version at this point.
I have discussed in the past my
complex relationship with the Electronic Freedom Foundation. This week has made that relationship even more complex. The organization has invalidated a podcasting patent which has been used to bludgeon popular podcasters. That certainly adds a positive point for them, but that wasn't their only big story.
In November, the EFF petitioned for an exemption to the DMCA DRM rules that would allow users to alter videogames that have had their online capabilities shuttered. The goal is to allow gamers to bring those games back from the dead so that money they had spent on those games was not in vein. It is certainly an interesting idea, but one that was guaranteed to be met with resistance.
That resistance materialized formally this week in the form of a 71-page brief by the Entertainment Software Association. The brief was filed with the support of the Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America, two organizations who have had a rough decade in their relationship with the Internet and have had trouble proving that they know exactly what it is.
The ESA wrote,
Hacking video game access controls facilitates piracy and therefore undermines the core anti-piracy purposes of (the DMCA). Hacking the video game access controls requires, by definition, hacking of the video game console or similar device in order to play the hacked video game. Once the access controls for the video game console are hacked, regardless of the purported purpose or intent of the hacker, any content, including pirated games, can be played on a video game console...
Contrary to the proponents' claims that they should be able to 'play games that they have already paid for,' circumvention would enable users to avoid paying for a variety of online services, including network-based multiplayer gameplay, and get a better deal than they bargained for... users generally are not entitled to access online services (including multiplayer gameplay) as a result of purchasing a game.
I have a foot in each camp here. As a gamer, it certainly angers me when a game I purchased for particular features stops offering those features for which I have paid because of a decision made by people I cannot meet with. As a developer, however, I agree with the notion of protecting intellectual property. Making it legal to alter the game would mean making it legal to decompile the game, which would certainly expose intellectual property which could harm the publisher immensely. In fact, it could harm them irreparably, preventing them from publishing new games in the future.
Normally my feelings on the EFF are strong one way or the other - it is not common for them to bring a position that I partially agree with, or at least can understand both sides of the case. It will be interesting to see where this goes, but it seems unlikely that the EFF is going to win this one.
Many people are familiar with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, but it is unlikely that most people have heard of the Bitcoin Foundation. This non-profit organization describes themselves saying, "We fund development of Bitcoin Core and create new avenues for people to participate in the Bitcoin project." The group has, in the past, organized a Bitcoin conference and hired lobbyists and developers.
Olivier Janssens, a member of the Bitcoin Foundation board of directors, published information on the foundation's forum about some of the inner-workings of the organization. He started with a rather shocking claim: "the Bitcoin Foundation is effectively bankrupt."
As a member of the board, part of his responsibility is to manage the group so that something like this doesn't happen. So, what that, what did happen? According to Janssens,
As a result of 2 years of ridiculous spending and poorly thought out decisions, they almost ran out of money in November of last year. In extremis, but way too late, they decided to select a new executive director during that time. That new director decided that the only way to still get funds at that point, was to focus solely on funding core development, in the hope that people would see that as a good cause. But people were smart enough not to trust the Foundation anymore. Despite it's intentions, they failed to collect the necessary funds to support this idea. With the election in February-March, it became clear that people did not want the Foundation meddling with core development. The truth is that the Foundation's plan was to hire even more core devs + to start a Bitcoin Standards Body. No organization should have this much control over Bitcoin, and a disaster was avoided.
The organization fired 90% of its employees and converted some to volunteers. The problem with volunteers, however, is that projects like this always take a back burner position to the thing that makes them money. The Executive Director is leaving the organization within 2 weeks time and will found a new organization with a new name to try and continue on the work without the tarnish of the current brand.
Within a short period of time, two additional board members, including the Executive Director, have refuted the claims. ED Patrick Murck said,
The foundation is not bankrupt, but a restructuring is needed. Olivier basically jumped in front of our announcements on that and our annual report on the 2014 finances to be released next week, and he spun it very very negative.
It is no surprise that the Foundation is in a situation of controversy - they are not new to this scenario. A founding member was involved with Silk Road and another was involved in the collapse of MtGox. A refactored foundation will not solve the problem, and neither will a new group founded by the same people. The biggest issue is figuring out what the real problem here is.