As part of my ongoing experiment in rolling computer tech back to the '90s or earlier, I thought of using a web browser that doesn't have so much distraction, and that doesn't hog memory. (My laptop in general, and surfing the web, works just fine on half a gig of RAM — only if there's all kinds of cyber-sludge being fed into the system does it start to slow down).
The Dillo browser seemed like what I was looking for — no Java, no Flash, not much of anything other than displaying text and images. The only bummer is no frames, so everything is arranged in one very long column. Yet it has features that the browsers of 20 years ago did not, like tabs and a Google search bar next to the URL bar.
It's been fun poking around websites that usually take a long time to load and that play ads, and seeing only the text and images. The New York Times website, for instance. And good ol' Drudge Report looks exactly like it does in a fancy browser, only with no ads. The best part is that with one tab open, it's only using 15 megs of RAM, compared to 150 in Firefox. Plus it only takes up 1.27 MB of hard drive space.
Not the best browser ever made, but it has its uses, and I could really see this being great on older PCs that wouldn't be able to run any of the popular browsers.
In fact, that was exactly the thinking behind Dillo — create a web browser that has a minimal footprint on memory usage and the hard drive (shoot, it's small enough to fit on a floppy disk), to democratize web access around the world.
However, gaining access to Dillo was not so democratically easy and open for me, since I'm running Windows. And allowing a browser to run on Windows would only be encouraging the monopolistic yadda yadda yadda. So the developers insisted on not providing a Windows version, although thankfully a handful of others have done so on their own (naming it D+). Yet the original is available for Mac — guess they didn't have any problems with boosting the hardware and software costs there. Nothing monolithic or closed-off about Apple, after all.
Thus, in the mind of the typical geek, they're going to democratize web access by preventing their browser from running on the operating system that everybody uses. It must serve the higher goal of Open Source, and if that means that nobody — especially not in the Third World — will end up using it, then that's just not fair.
I see the same ego-stroking propaganda whenever I open up the Vim text editor. Some message about how to help starving children in Africa. Or how the Linux distribution on my office computer is named Ubuntu, meaning something in Swahili. Cuz, y'know, Linux nerds totally hang with black Africans. They were trying to democratize computer usage in Africa by pushing Linux there too, though I don't know if that's still going on — how could you tell anyway? After their efforts, are Africans starting to eat into the code monkey job market dominated by Indians?
B-B-But... it was Open Source! Our technology didn't come from some rich, giant corporation! You aren't forced to use a graphical user interface — the command line allows you to think more freely! Yeah, well, most users aren't interested in thinking. The average consumer just wants to get some basic tasks done and not have to think about it.
That's where Microsoft came in, delivering a user-friendly system to the average person. How else did it become so damn common? Microsoft was not driven by an abstract ideology but by concrete concerns about whether users would buy it or not. And whaddaya know, Windows works way better for starving black Africans than Linux does. Once again, practical demolishes theoretical.
Are nerds going to start designing open source medicines to treat tropical diseases? If their intentions are pure, then the result would have to be better than the medicines currently in use by the pharmaceutical industry. I bet they'd come up with some Rube Goldberg cocktail / regimen that someone with malaria would stand no chance of understanding or wanting to follow through with. The sick person would just ask for a pill from the Peace Corps volunteer, pop it in their mouth, and try to get back to their daily life.
In summary, nerds don't want to democratize access to what is truly best for the average Third Worlder. Rather, they want to develop and disseminate an alternative to the so-called best — something that would prove how idiotic, clumsy, and evil the corporate developers were, and how smart, clever, and noble the Open Source crusaders were.
They wouldn't care if winning their crusade against Microsoft ruined more lives in the Third World than it improved. The Third World is like a new baby in the family that the two older siblings are trying to get to imitate them. If sibling A prevails, that just proves what a loser sibling B is. "C'mon, whose room do you want to play in? I know it's mine, cuz you like me better, don't you? Yes, yes you do!" It's puerile.
What would really help the Third World, technologically? Making it easier for them to get a copy of Windows. The Chinese have gone the route of piracy to make that happen. But it wouldn't have to be that way if the version of Windows were old enough. Windows 95 was pretty easy to get the hang of. They haven't sold that in forever, so it's not like spreading it around the Third World would eat into sales.
True, they wouldn't be able to do all the weird stuff that we can with newer operating systems and more powerful browsers, but then you're expecting too much of the Third World technologically. It would do well enough for them to write their thoughts down in a text editor, keep track of any trades, dealings, and small business with a spreadsheet, and kill time playing card games. Only a nerd so removed from reality would want to squash that in order to push Open Source stuff on them that they would never use.