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by Bryan Chaffin

Apple Cancels Safari Software Seeding Program, But Should Reconsider
March 24th, 2003

Apple has canceled the Software Seeding program for Safari due to Internet leaks according to a ZDNet article. Safari is Apple's open sourced-based browser that Apple introduced at Macworld San Francisco 2003. Safari is still in the beta development stage, with version 60 being the most recent build released by the company on February 12th.

Versions 62, 64, and 67 of Safari have all been leaked to the Internet, and became widely known, available, and discussed throughout the Mac world. According to the ZDNet article, these leaks came in violation of NDAs signed by those participating in the Software Seeding program for the software. It was the leak of version 67 that moved Apple to discontinue the Seeding program. From the ZDNet article:

On Saturday, members of Apple's "Software Seeding" programme for Safari received an e-mail from Apple informing them of the decision: "Due to Safari 67 postings to the Internet, we have closed the Safari Seed project. We know that the majority of you are not responsible for the leaks to the Internet, and we sincerely appreciate your feedback, time and effort with this project."

There is more information in the full article at ZDNet's Web site.

OK, those are the facts, but let me cut to the reality of the situation. Cutting the Software Seeding program for Safari is an act of unmitigated silliness on the part of Apple. While it is true, and very inappropriate, that developers or users have been violating their NDAs by leaking these Safari builds, the problem lies in the NDA, and the program itself. In other words, I am not condoning those leaks, or the leakers, but rather than pulling the Safari Software Seeding program, the company should revise it and make it open to any and all Mac users that wish to go out on a limb by using these builds.

Why? Simply put, there are a very large number of users that wish to do so. How is it in the interest of Apple to limit the interest of those people? OmniWeb, Mozilla, and Chimera/Camino, to name a few other browsers, have all developed community, interest, and better user feedback by releasing frequent and very open releases, nightly builds in the case of the Mozilla and Camino.

If there is some sort of concern that unstable builds of Safari could be some sort of problem, Apple could take the path of these other browser developers and offer stable milestone releases while simultaneously offering potentially less stable versions as a separate download. Set it off, put up warnings, and even include a big, fat warning at the top of the licensing agreement for these downloads that says "THIS IS AN UNSUPPORTED RELEASE THAT COULD CAUSE WHO KNOWS HOW MANY PROBLEMS! USE AT YOUR OWN RISK!" Users are smart enough to handle such a concept, as is proved by the tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands or even millions) of users that regularly download nightly builds of Mac, Windows, and Linux browsers across the planet.

With the other browsers that have followed this course, the result has been more user feedback and a better browser. I very strongly think that Apple could benefit from such a course of action with Safari, and that this is simply not the time or place where Apple's traditional secrecy makes rational sense. This is especially so in the case of a Web browser where Apple is not reinventing the wheel, but rather making the wheel rounder, smoother, and better. It's based on an open sourced rendering engine, for crying out loud!

Apple needs to reevaluate its policy on this, and I hope that cancelling the Software Seeding program for Safari is merely a precursor to opening up the beta process, making my editorial moot. Somehow, I doubt that is the case.

began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs in 1990 when the Kinko's guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker, finally buying a Power Computing Power 100 in 1995. Today, Bryan is the Editor of The Mac Observer, and has contributed to the print versions of MacAddict and MacFormat (UK).

You can send your comments directly to him, or you can also post your comments below.

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