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.

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