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Bug#172436: BROWSER and sensible-browser standardization

Hi Russ,

This question came up recently on the git mailing list in the context
of "git web--browse" (a backend used by git instaweb and some other
commands).  It would have been nice to have clear advice in Debian
policy to guide what we should do.

>From the point of view of improving upstream programs, I think the
best Debian can do is:

 1. For desktop apps, recommend unconditional use of xdg-open.

 2. For everyone else:

    a. Clearly specify the semantics of the BROWSER variable to the
       extent that there is wide consensus about it or a strong
       rationale (in other words, clearly indicating the murky bits
       and leaving them unspecified).

    b. Encourage use of x-www-browser and www-browser as defaults
       when BROWSER is unset (so upstreams' use of "firefox" and
       "lynx" can be made configurable at compile time).

    c. For non-desktop apps lacking support for the BROWSER variable,
       recommend unconditional use of xdg-open (for the same reason).

This should result in a reasonable user experience, as long as:

 i.   xdg-open and sensible-browser make settings like
      BROWSER=firefox:lynx work as intended and take precedence over
      any system-wide settings.

 ii.  xdg-open works well and respects the current desktop's system-wide
      and per-user "preferred browser" configuration.

 iii. When xdg-open is installed, some xdg-open workalike registers
      itself through the alternatives system as a possible
      implementation of the x-www-browser command.

Unfortunately at least gnome-open seems to violate (i).  So for policy
there are at least two options: we could specify everything except (i),
and leave whether to implement (i) to the desktop maintainers, or
we could specify (i), too, and create consensus e.g. by proposing a
patch to libgnome.

Both sound like work. :(  I guess I'm tempted to specify everything
except (i) and mention (i) as "arguably a bug" to get past the logjam.
What do you think?

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