October 23, 2006

Debian/GNU IceWeasel and GPL Firefox:
"But sir... aren't YOU the man?"

Probably more than a few folk at Microsoft (among other places :P) were laughing their @$$es off last week. If you haven't heard about the debate - it basically boils down to this: Although Firefox is "free" (distribution and source code use/re-use), the name and artwork are trademarks of the Mozilla Foundation.

So they (the Foundation) have made a few pointed requests to Linux distros like Debian, with regard to how they may distribute work product from the Mozilla Foundation, particularly with regards to their key successful product, Firefox.

The problems are basically this, as (I interpret) the Mozilla Foundation sees it: (1) All distributions using their name must include exactly their artwork and logos and (2) they wish to review and approve "substantive" patches for distributions using their trademarked names. The rationale is pretty straight-forward: consumers have come to know and recognize the Firefox brand, and the Mozilla Foundation has invested in building that brand - and they don't want to see its value eroded by confusing imagery or shoddy product.

Straight from the horse's mouth, I'd have to agree these are fine and reasonable things when you're running a business. And now that Firefox is generating real revenue and market share, apparently many in the open source movement seem to be unhappy their new web browser overlords.

They should remember though, money's important - and it may not flow if its too far from "core" Firefox.

So the counter plan is to branch Firefox and ship "IceWeasel" (fire=ice, fox=weasel) - of which there are two variants already: Debian and GNU. The whole point, they argue, of "free software" is to enable EXACTLY the type of customization of products the Mozilla Foundation is arguing to prevent under the Firefox brand. So they're going to fragment in response...

Much better.


What's funny is both sides aren't wrong - and a good example of where being right (on either side) is to the detriment of both. Maybe they should try a brand family strategy to compromise - something like "Firefox Prime" (but, uh, better... :P) for the "official" Mozilla distributions, and "Firefox Debian" for branches/changes... ah, whatever.

Let's hear one for those young whipper snappers "stickin' it to the man!"... oh wait... who was who again?

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