IceWeasel and the Focus Failure of Free Software Fans

I have been thinking a lot about this Ice Weasel fiasco lately, and I’ve begun to see it as a failure of the open source aim. I’m really bummed out that it’s come to this. I’m disappointed in Mozilla, I’m sick and tired of Debian, and yet, I “get” both sides. Read on for my breakdown of this issue.

iceweasel 1

Here’s a brief synopsis of the issue:

Awhile back, someone Mozilla said, “we had to change our name from Phoenix, and we had to change our name from Firebird, so dammit, this time, we’re going to trademark our name. So they did. And along with that trademark came some rules, which included restricting the use of the icon and the name. In other words – “if you modify our code, it’s no longer really ‘Firefox,’ so you can’t call it Firefox, and you can’t use the logo.”

iceweasel 3Fair enough. If you download code, add a bunch of buggy crap that opens security holes, I’m sure the developer doesn’t want to you to distribute your product using (and potentially soiling) their name. So Mozilla says, “Feel free to distribute Firefox, but once you change it, it’s no longer Firefox.” And I get that. And I’m cool with it.

Debian, being the arrow straight guys that they are, said, “Whoa Nelly! Now that you’ve put some restrictions on our use, this isn’t free software. I can’t do what I want with it without limit.”

So Mozilla said “Ok, you can use the name Firefox.”

And Debian said, “But your logo’s trademark violates the Debian free software guidelines in our social contract.”

So Mozilla said, “Ok, fine, you get two choices: one, you but you can run all patches by us, so that we approve what is called ‘Firefox.’ Two, you can change the name of your project.”

iceweasel 2Thus, after some whippersnapper came up with the awful pun IceWeasel (Fire/Ice, Fox/Weasel), even thought WaterWeasel would have maintained the alliterative name and been much better, they decided to add their own patches too. And the crappy thing is, I kinda like the patches.

So the question is – is it THAT important to be completely free? Is there anyone besides Richard Stallman and a few weird beards who are this passionate about using free software with a slightly restricted logo, restricted mainly so the project doesn’t find themselves in trouble later?

On top of this, they now will damage Firefox prevalence by adding yet ANOTHER browser to the mix.

Because this is a big issue! I see more and more open source projects having to get trademarks and restricting their use if this nonsense with IP law continues.

I tend to blame Debian here. I wish their rules weren’t so black and white. Sometimes computer users tend to be really overly critical and very matter of fact about things. The real world is gray. There are very few absolutes, and I usually find that people who think in absolutes are hard-headed, inflexible, and rarely fun to be around.

This reminds me of a podcast I recorded for OSNews. We are so preoccupied with fighting we rarely face the real issues. Debian can’t be bothered to rally hardware manufacturers for better Linux drivers, but rather, set their sights on taking down Mozilla, who has produced Buzilla, Thunderbird, Seamonkey, Lightning, and Firefox. Makes sense… not.

IceWeasel is going to get a bunch of users right away. I think Ubuntu has considerably large userbase for popular Linux users, and IceWeasel sounds really cutting edge. On top of that, Firefox 2 was just released and it’s pretty underwhelming from a user standpoint. Other than close buttons on each tab, it’s barely different, and IceWeasel will boast some neat new features, which will interest people. I predict we’ll see it on Windows in the next few months too.

The question is – is this the best use of our time??

If I’ve gotten any of this wrong or misunderstood any of this story, feel free to post any corrections or notations in the comments and I will gladly update this piece.

13 Replies to “IceWeasel and the Focus Failure of Free Software Fans”

  1. >So the question is – is it THAT important to be completely free?

    This is like a discussion between a fruitarian and a vegan. The fruitarian only eats fruits and seeds and does not kill plants. Vegans do not kill animals to eat or dress. Both extreme. But one is always more extreme than the other. 😉

  2. To make myself more clear:

    Microsoft is omnivorous.
    The Mozilla folks are vegetarian.
    The Debian folks are vegans.
    And RMS is a fruitarian.

    These different stances can never agree with each other.

    I personally am omnivorous, but I can become an lacto-ovo pescetarian if I was to push myself. Meaning, I would eat dairy daily, eggs and fish once a week but would eat no animal/bird meat. I feel exactly the same about my “software freedom” stance.

  3. Debians guidelines are as clear as day. They release a fully free distro. Firefox is _not_ free. I doint see whats the concern here.

  4. Now Joe, surely you aren’t being serious? Of course there’s no “problem” with anyone doing this. The question is the motivation. I see it as attacking a small, insignificant problem when there are big mountains ahead.

    For the record, deciding what is “free” is something for which I have my own definition. To me, open code by logo and naming restrictions does not disqualify software from being “open.” To Debian, it does.

  5. If I understand Debian’s motive I should be able to make my own linux distribution and call it Debian? Afterall Free is Free?

  6. I mean… can’t we just bend the first amendment a LITTLE bit to make it so it’s a punishable offense to say anything bad about George Bush? That won’t change most people’s day to day lives, right? Speech will BASICALLY still be mostly free, as long as we adhere to that one MINOR adjustment regarding only one person… really more of a technicality than anything… nobody would even notice…

    — For those living in Communist England (or elsewhere that dragons be), who didn’t get the “first amendment” reference: amendment #1 in the USA Constitution is “freedom of speech”. And no, we don’t have it here either… 🙁

  7. Freedom of speech has never been absolute, in the U.S. or anywhere else. For example, communicating with others for the purposes of planning a crime is conspiracy; and as is pointed out in the Wikipedia article Conspiracy in the U.S., no overt criminal act needs to be committed in furtherance of the conspiracy in order to satisfy the common law definition of criminal conspiracy.

    Regarding GWB, the right in question is really the right to (peaceful) dissent, which IMHO is as important to democracy as free elections. Elections are meaningless unless the electors have the ability to hold those elected accountable for their decisions. This is an impossible goal without the right to dissent.

    Regarding IceWeasel, the problem is the law, as is frequently the case, has failed to keep pace with society. The free software movement has been generally a very good thing for society but is forced to abide by laws that were written to protect intellectual property rights. Ideally, the law would change to protect the property rights of the free software movement; but given that much of Congress is for sale to the highest bidder, good luck with that idea.

  8. You missed it.

    Debian is fine with Firefox having a proprietary logo representation under copyright, they don’t mind a bit. They just don’t ship copyright controlled material as part of Debian. They were happily patching out the logo file, but Mozilla Corp insisted all aspects of the brand must be present, or the trademark may not be used.

    It may seem hairsplitting to you, but to me it’s all the difference. Debian had a clear path to rationalize the principle with the practical, but Mozilla Corp is just not interested in the principles.

  9. thats right i don’t think debian should be the only one barring responsibility here it was a simple conflict of policy’s and both party’s couldn’t change. and i don’t want to here any grumbling about how this is going to hurt firefox user percentage im abide firefox user when im in my windows comp and use iceweasel when im in linux besides one more web browser is not a bad thing i mean what are you tying to prove that firefox has the best chance to clear IE out of majority of users so we should all just deal with what ever Mozilla decides is right i don’t think so. whatever browser is the provides the best environment for the web should be the one to take over not to say it will work out that way but look at Google we all used to use different search engines but now most use Google because it gets the job done better . so the more browsers the better surly one will be revolutionary and yea its important to keep software free don’t believe me, look at windows vista.

  10. Ok, let me clarify what to me seems the major issue concerning the Mozilla/Debian argument.

    Debian is not only known as a free distro. It is also known for its stability and security.

    The biggest problem was with the patches. Debian tests every single package that gets into their repositories. This is to ensure the greatest level of stability and security. What happened with Mozilla’s software was that Debian devs were writing patches to them. The guys at Mozilla said that these patches should be submitted to the upstream dev and would get merged into their tree so to be in the following release. Basically, a modified copy of Firefox cannot be called Firefox anymore. For Debian to continue shipping Firefox, they would have had to resignate from applying patches to the software. Any security holes would have to wait for the next Firefox release to be included in the distro. Debian said no: we want our users to have the fixes right away.

    And that’s what makes all of us Debian users confident to use our systems. We have a level of security and stability that’s hardly met by any other distro. With all of the software that comes in our distro.

  11. So why isn’t Debian up in arms over the Linux trademark?

    If it’s just patches, do they ship Firefox in Debian-Obsolete… I mean Debian-Stable?

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