I noted in "Firefox 2.0 Released" (right at the bottom with the Wikipedia link) that I would blog about Firefox not being as Free as I had thought. Well, here is that blog.
Here I explore the issues that have given rise to the Debian IceWeasel package, and the GNU IceWeasel project.
Firefox RestrictionsFirefox is very successful, and is a great testament to the power of opening up the code. However, it has come to light that there are some small things in Firefox that are not completely Free.
There are three main problem areas:
- The source code for the Talkback (crash-reporting) application is not provided.
- The Firefox name is trademarked, and Mozilla will not allow modified versions of the programme to bear the name unless they approve the changes.
- The artwork used in Firefox, including the logo, is covered by a proprietary license, which again restricts modification.
DebianThese problems came to light when Debian wanted to include Firefox in its distribution. The above restrictions would not meet the Debian Free Software Guidelines (the standard measure of when a programme is Free, in my opinion), so they can’t distribute Firefox in its current form.
Debian chose to distribute Firefox without the restricted components. However, Mozilla informed them that they could not use the Firefox name for a programme that did not use the official logo. Hence the genus of the name "IceWeasel" (the relation to the Firefox name is obvious).
Debian are planning to remove the "Firefox" name from the package in the next release (Etch), but they are very close to a feature-freeze, which will make this difficult to accomplish.
For the (very long) discussion on the matter, between Mozilla and Debian, see here.
IceWeaselTo complicate matters, there is a separate but related project, from GNU, that has adopted the IceWeasel name. The above Debian project is simply a recompiled Firefox using options that allows them to exclude certain parts, and use their own artwork. The GNU IceWeasel is a fork of the Firefox code that has a more wide-reaching aim. This is a part of the Gnuzilla project, which also includes IceDove (their version of Thunderbird).
In addition to providing Free artwork (that the Debian version plans to use), they include some privacy features:
- The disabling of cookie-tracking from zero-size images.
- Warning the user about link redirects, also used for tracking.
GNU IceWeasel aims to be a permanent Firefox fork that takes care of these restriction issues. It could serve as a common upstream provider of a package for GNU/Linux distributions that prioritise the Freedom of their software. Developments in Firefox will be included in IceWeasel.
I hope they make a Windows version. It may seem odd to be so particular about software Freedom when running a proprietary operating system, but some of us can’t choose the OS used in our place of work and choose as much Freedom as we can.
UbuntuUbuntu have the same priorities as Debian when it comes to software Freedom, and they look set to go the IceWeasel route. In fact, they have done some great work on possible logos (forum thread, and wiki). However, presumably because of time restrictions, they have shipped the official Firefox build, with the official (restricted) artwork in Edgy (6.10).
Although I understand the pressures of their release deadline, and their commitment to maintaining their release schedule, I’m disappointed in this decision. IIRC, in Breezy (5.10) they shipped a Firefox without the restricted artwork, and renamed to something like "Mozilla Browser"; in Dapper (6.06), they shipped a Firefox without the restricted artwork, but with the Firefox name. Now they have a release with non-Free artwork and a source package that cannot be modified with the DFSG Freedoms. This compromise has an unpleasant feel to it, but I’m sure it will be resolved by 7.04 (Feisty).
This is still a fluid situation. But it has highlighted some areas that question Mozilla’s commitment to software Freedom. I understand their desire to protect the browser’s reputation, but the GPL gives some protection in this matter by stipulating that derived works be marked as such. The MPL alienated them from the Free Software community at first, but they made the courageous decision to triple-license with the GPL and LGPL. I hope that they realise their current stance is incompatible with Free Software ideals, and that they adjust their position to pre-empt the chance of being alienated again.
It should be noted that Mozilla only became this aggressive in their approach since the control of such matters transferred from the Mozilla Foundation to the Mozilla Corporation. The same trademark enforcement issues apply to Thunderbird, and as mentioned above, have given rise to IceDove.
- Debian/Mozilla discussion
- Gnuzilla (Wikipedia page)
- Ubuntu IceWeasel icon design
- DebianAdmin - how to install IceWeasel in Debian and Ubuntu (may not work with Ubuntu 6.10)