Posted on Wed 12 September 2012

Fennecs WebOs - A bad idea

Fennecs is, or shall i say was given its current status an algerian web based open source operating system project. The project failed before even reaching a concretized project state, not a single line of code was written, there was just talk, The whole thing was merely an idea, a bad one.

Operating systems 101

You know, the thing that bridges hardware with user written software, the one that handles memory management, schedules the CPU, presents the user with a very nice filesystem tree abstraction.

How can such a thing run on top of a Web Browser with a sandboxed javascript interpreter ? it cannot.

Given the project’s initial specs, it’s merely a one page dashboard app, with a bunch of fancy widgets that interacts with third party API’s over HTTP, links to external web apps abstracted as applications with maybe icons and all that. In the end, it all boils down to some html tags rendered by a browser engine that runs on top of a real operating system. Calling and marketing it as an operating system is just silly.

Open Source 101

The road ahead for the project looked bumpy, dirty, and filled with all kind of obstacles. We’re talking mario kart kind of obstacles here, like bananas thrown and holes dug by other players in the game along the road.

First and foremost there was a communication problem, using a facebook group as a communication mean for an open source software project is just as good as using C to write web apps. sure, technically it’s doable, but not practical at all, it's just the wrong tool for the job. IRC would’ve been much better, faster, and well suited for heated technical arguments.

Then problems associated with the decision making process saw the light, Decisions were made in a democratic fashion with voting polls open to everyone.

This is the right approach to elect presidents, but when it comes to which technology shall we use kind of polls, I believe it’s not, and i’ll get to that later.

Coordination is very important in such projects, sadly there was none of it, everyone seemed to be on their own, with no clear and shared vision nor precise goals, people just did not know where to start. That could have been prevented by forming a core developers team, that coordinates the project, assigns tasks, writes specifications, makes decisions and lead the rest. The team itself, would ideally be formed based on experience and deep understanding of the subject matter.

Great open source projects exist and survive, thanks to how well coordinated and organized they are. There is always something to be done by someone at multiple levels, layers or fields, Such projects would not survive if every contributor decides he’d only contribute code patches, or if technical decisions are made based on assumptions such as “we will choose x technology because its easy and we want more people to contribute code”. Fennecs suffered from the latter, and is dying slowly and painfully.

Better ideas

As i said earlier, I felt that this whole webOS thing was a bad idea, it certainly wouldn’t improve the daily lives of algerians, not to mention that it’s not meant to be used by regular non tech wizards people who barely know what a web browser is. and thus it wouldn’t have made a big impact as some thought it would.

Given how weak, empty, and broken our web is and how much we would love that to change; A better idea would be to build something that benefits from crowdsourcing capabilities of the web, organize information contributed by users and present it in interesting ways following models and approaches such as Openstreetmap. 's to cartography, i’m sure it can be applied to many other fields, and certain that it would benefit more than a bunch of algerian techies.

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