Steven Vaughan-Nichols: “Given a choice between the Firefox they already know about and ‘IceWeasel,’ [users are] going to go for Firefox. Or, maybe, just maybe, instead of dealing with this confusing Linux stuff, they’ll stick with Windows after all.”

Steven is right on the money with this rant. This is so maddeningly stupid I’m embarrassed to be even remotely associated with this.

22 comments on “

  1. trent

    glandium: not free as in the Debian logo?

    I often don’t get what “software” in the DFSG means, but I’m even more confused that a trademarked logo is supposed to be free software.

  2. asac

    Where is the problem. Anyone can package firefox, obey mozillas demand and try to get it into debian. Just do it and we’ll see how far you’ll get.

    There is no reason for ranting about this.

  3. Mark Brown

    trent: A piece of software which uses a trademark gets covered by the trademark licenses; this restricts the ability do things like produce modified versions of the software.

  4. Carlos

    I’m with Jon on this one: Stupid on whose part?

    Should we have Debian submitting every patch to Mozilla? And what happens when Mozilla stops providing support after 6 months or so, and Debian still has (I think) 1 year to go? Will Mozilla keep reviewing security patches?

    This is not, as Steven wants to make us believe, a problem with Debian. It’s a problem with trademark law. Mozilla is rightly trying to protect their trademark, and Debian is rightly protecting their right to implement changes to the software (it’s suppose to be F/OSS, for crying out loud).

    Ubuntu has already signalled they’ll do the same. All the other derivatives will probably follow their leads. Mozilla will keep their trademark undiluted, but it will also be unused.

  5. MJR/slef

    Firefox is not a valuable enough name to be worth giving MozCorp a veto over packaging and/or release policies, just like XFree86 wasn’t valuable enough to give X-Oz super cow powers, or Netscape or … This is not a new problem. It’s just that the way of enclosing part of the free software commons (trademarks) is relatively unusual.

    Also, it looks like the debian logo problems may soon be fixed. aj wrote to -project earlier this month: “Branden Robinson ( is delegated the authority to direct the SPI board in regards to copyright and trademark licensing and registration with respect to the term “Debian” and the various Debian logos.” Maybe zealous trademarkers soon won’t be able to use that lazy retort.

  6. Petteri

    Steve and Ian are so maddeningly stupid that I’m embarrassed to be even remotely associated with those guys.

  7. Ian Murdock Post author

    > Stupid on whose part?

    Fair question. I’ll be the first to agree that Mozilla is being overzealous, just like I thought Debian was being overzealous in its reaction to the Debian Common Core last year. So, you’re both wrong. Congratulations.

  8. Matthew Garrett

    What’s the practical alternative? Mozilla aren’t happy about the use of the term Firefox if patches don’t go via them for approval first. This is obviously incompatible with Debian’s policy regarding security updates, and it creates difficulties for the maintainer in general bugfixing and integration.

    The job of a Linux distribution is to provide an integrated suite of software. One of the major advantages of Debian has always been that the degree of integration of packages is much greater than in most distributions, and that inevitably often requires modification of the code away from what upstream provide. That inherently conflicts with Mozilla’s desire that Firefox be effectively identical to the upstream binaries. Adhering to the Mozilla requirements here would result in a loss of quality in Debian, and potentially reduced stability in stable releases as entirely new versions of Mozilla get pushed into security updates (in most cases necessitating rebuilds of every package that depends on Mozilla).

    So it’s clearly a bad situation. Debian has the choice between losing the Firefox name but maintaining its technical excellence, or retaining the name and sacrificing both freedom and technical advantages. I think either of these choices would be valid, and I’m not going to criticise Debian for making the choice that’s consistent with what they’re best known for – making choices based on freedom and technical merit rather than marketing.

  9. Glanz


    I admire your idealism, but I believe this is just another symptom of the “Debian Legal Sickness”… I simply do not believe there are Debian developers capable of maintaining Mozilla code (yet). But of course, that will change. Normally, when a situation like this arises in Debian, it results in a gazillion new and wonderful bugs that irritate users into escaping into any other distro. (Think Nautilus crashes for five years).

    Debian developers are among the best in the world. So are Mozilla developers. It’s a shame a perverted sense of integrism has introduced another restriction to users.
    In the future, I can foresee a pure Debian, with no drivers, supporting no proprietary hardware, with a HURD kernel, unable to connect to the net because of phone lines owned by Bell (a “proprietary” company) or cable networks duly patented

  10. Peter

    I think Debian’s stance should have been to distribute epiphany and move Firefox to the appropriate *verse repository.

  11. ringo

    What’s wrong with debian developers? People just want to use a browser called firefox, not some second rate customised version that may or may not be buggy like hell. If you don’t like firefox trademark issues, don’t include it in your distro. If the debian crew can’t code its own browser, just leave it out. I completely fail to see why they’re creating headaches form themselves by having another application to maintain. What, there is so little to do on other parts of debian that they have to tinker with someone else’s code to keep themselves busy?

    From someone outside the debian cult, this whole business makes no sense at all.

    Yeah, they don’t follow marketing, at least like that we won’t be hearing much about them.

  12. Carl

    Debian ought to get their act together. Of course they need to create a stable distro, but Debian is likely not going to be stabler by maintaining their own browser. Think about this: who is likely to respond the quickest and best to bugs and security threats: a Debian packager who needs to work his way into the code completely, or the official Firefox team whose core activity it is making Firefox a better browser?

    Besides: who will guarantee that a Debian fix some day will not render a Mozilla fix obsolete, or causes different issues? Thinking that you (Debian) are a better maintainer of a piece of software than the makers themselves is arrogant and short-sighted.

    As open source products are getting more professional and meet wider acceptance, trademark issues are going to be more common. It will be only a matter of time before Open Office, MySQL, Apache might follow Mozilla’s policy. And though this may not be in line with the Open Source spirit, I feel it is necessary that the corporate image of a piece of software cannot be diluted by same-named offshoots that cannot guarantee the same quality. This issue will have to be solved, or distros will get alienated more and more from the base that they build their existence on.

  13. Boris Zbarsky

    > Will Mozilla keep reviewing security patches?

    Generally speaking, yes. It’s happened for the Gecko 1.4 branch maintained by Sun, and is happening for the Gecko 1.7 branch RedHat is maintaining. Both in CVS.

  14. Clint

    I have to agree with Carl’s comments. Although I am not a Debian user, I am a Debian derivative user and an outside observer. I cannot see how it is valuable for Debian developers to tweak with a highly maintained 3rd party application. I understand that “free” means, the ability to do so if you want or need to. I think though, the developers of Debian who want to tweak with Mozilla products should join the Mozilla community and submit changes in that process. The community process there, with the true Mozilla development experts, can give feedback on the value of those suggested changes. The mozilla team actually might have tried the change before and realized it broke other apps. If Debian tries to develop in a vacuum, they miss one of the highly valuable aspects of the current open-source world, the community outside of Debian.

    If Debian finds that Mozilla is unwilling to deal with security issues, then, Debian could fork Firefox into iceweasal or some other product.

    I know the diehard Debian people compile their own apps and all that stuff, but I would guess that even in Debian, the vast majority of users want an app that they KNOW they can rely on.

  15. wellwisher

    Great article sir. I am impressed. I am also a user who would like linux to be better but I wont use it until it becomes as simple to use as windows.

    This is exactly the lesson that OSS people should learn. Sir, if you succeed in teaching this lesson to OSS delelopers and they act accordingly linux will have windows marketshare in 5 years, sure. Firefox is gaining marketshare and I am also trying desperately to propagate it and if another OSS browser tries to gain marketshare, all users will get confused and will just dump OSS software and return to Internet Explorer. Debians, If you want that, Go on! You will kill OSS in no time.

    We want linux and not any specific distribution or desktop environment. If OSS developers understands this mind of users, they will pave way for a bright OSS future.

    All these fights among yourselves is only favouring Microsoft. They will find it very easy to convert a confused user into Internet Explorer. I think that those who are pressing for another browser is a microsoftie in disguise. They will go only after they make sure that Linux and OSS never enters the mainstream market.

  16. Marcel

    I’m not agree with the reasons to create IceWeasel, but is there and is a fork.

    So let have firefox on the non-free and IceWeasel in where ever you want, is not necessary to remove firefox, let people decide what they want to use.

  17. Petrus

    My initial reaction was to think that the fork was dumb, unnecessary, and a fairly mindless act of Stallmanite reactionism. (i.e., “Firefox’s use of its’ trademarks do not conform with the dictates of our Messiah. Ergo, it is now our opinion that the Mozilla project is staffed with demoniacs, and its’ software should be rescued by us.”)

    However, I tempered that thought when I realised that nobody had told me why the Debian people wanted to apply patches to Firefox. So I must ask, since I’m assuming someone reading this blog will be able to tell me…is the fork primarily about the patch issue, or is it about the trademark issue?

    If it’s about the trademark issue, my opinion of the fork being dumb stands. The Iceweasel logo also is a sick joke…if you’re going to fork, at least come up with a replacement logo that looks halfway serious. A stoned weasel humping the planet (with animation, no less!) is not an image that is likely to attract respect. ;-)

  18. Terrell Prude' Jr.

    Why doesn’t Debian just do what Red Hat did with RHEL and simply update Firefox from 1.0.x to 1.5.x (the current shipping version)? Originally, RHEL 4 shipped with Firefox 1.0.x, too. Sometime this year (July or August, IIRC), Red Hat got tired of patching old, unsupported versions of Firefox and just started upgrading to 1.5.0.x, and I don’t blame ’em. I personally run CentOS in its K12LTSP incarnation (CentOS is a RHEL “clone” made from the RHEL RPM’s and without Red Hat’s logos), and I’m very thankful for the new Firefox. Saves me time from upgrading it manually.

    Any good reasons for Debian to not take a similar approach?

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