The Mozilla Foundation is a valuable contributor to the free software
community; it has, among other things, provided us with a free browser
which has restored the notion of standards to the World Wide Web. The
relationship between the Foundation and Linux distributors has occasionally
been a little bumpy, however. Mozilla's trademark policies have created
stress for distributors, a few of whom have decided to leave the
trademarked names behind altogether. The Foundation's security update and
maintenance policies have also made life harder, sometimes having the
effect of force-upgrading users to newer versions in otherwise stable
distributions. To some, it seems that Mozilla's main interest is now its
Windows users, with Linux support relegated to second-tier status.
At the recent Firefox summit, the Foundation got together with
representatives from Red Hat and Novell and faced the problem directly:
Historically, there has been a great deal of tension between
mozilla.org and the Linux distros, notably over maintenance of
branches, divergence between distros, and lack of sustained
communication between the groups. All seemed in agreement that
closer cooperation and dividing responsibilities appropriately
would benefit everyone involved. A number of changes were proposed
that have general consensus among the stakeholders.
What came out of this meeting was an agreement on a number of changes
which, going forward, should improve the relationship between Mozilla and
the distributors; it should also make life better for Linux-based Mozilla
A new group of maintainers - representing Linux distributors - will be
pulled together "in the Firefox 3 timeline." These maintainers will
have a much bigger say on what goes into the Linux builds of Firefox and
will be able to help ensure that the browser integrates better with Linux.
They will also have the explicit goal of moving many of the patches
currently carried by distributors into the Firefox mainline, decreasing
their divergence from the mainline (and from each other).
Another advantage of pushing the patches up, evidently, is that it will
make compliance with the Firefox trademark rules easier, since there will
be fewer patches to get rubber-stamped.
These maintainers will also have a bigger role in the long-term upkeep of
Firefox releases. Red Hat's Christopher Aillon notes
that this group will be maintaining Firefox 1.5 past the date when the
Mozilla Foundation plans to let it go. This work should help the
distributors keep that version secure into the future, with the result that
they need not push their users to the 2.0 release before they want to go
The Mozilla Foundation has also recognized that most Linux users run
versions of Firefox built by their distributors rather than the official
Mozilla builds. In the future, distributor packages will be available
directly from the Mozilla web pages. That, too, should make life easier
for the user community. Overall, this new cooperation seems like a step
in the right direction; having Mozilla more tightly tied to the free
software community can only be a good thing.
These changes are unlikely to bring Debian back into the Firefox camp,
however, since they will still see the trademark policy as not being
DFSG-free. Debian's policy of shipping "iceweasel" will almost certainly
continue. But there is an interesting
conversation going on about how iceweasel is shipped as well.
The issue is this: on a Debian system, it is still possible to type:
apt-get install firefox
What the packaging system will do, however, is install iceweasel. Given
that the driving force behind the switch in the first place was trademark
usage, it seems unlikely that the Mozilla people will be amused by this
behavior - though they have made no public statements on it as of this
writing. Moving away from Firefox as a result of disagreement with the
rules attached to that name is arguably a reasonable thing to do. But,
once that decision is made, the right thing is almost certainly to move
away from the "firefox" name altogether - before the next round of "cease
and desist" letters shows up.
Comments (17 posted)
is a multi-player online game
operated by a company called Nevrax
It has a dedicated following, but has
never reached anything close to the level of popularity seen by some of its
competitors. In fact, it has not reached a sufficient level of popularity
to keep Nevrax alive; that company has found its way into French bankruptcy
court. The future of this game is currently in doubt.
Interestingly, Ryzom has some free software roots. Just over six years
ago, LWN's Development
Page carried a notice about the release of NeL, Nevrax's GPL-licensed
library for the creation of online games. Richard Stallman once visited
the company's office. It would appear, however, that
Nevrax, once it started accepting venture capital, lost interest in free
software. The GPL releases slowed; instead, Nevrax started
versions of its code. Whether Nevrax would have
succeeded had it maintained its free software approach will never be known;
the proprietary plan has visibly failed to work, however.
Some of the original developers have not lost interest in the code,
however, and they have a number of friends. Together they have founded the
Free Ryzom Campaign. The plan is to raise
enough money to buy Nevrax's assets in bankruptcy court, release the code
under the GPL, and take the game into the future. The inspiration is
clearly the Blender
project, whose code was bought through donations in a very similar
way back in 2002. The Free Blender project surprised everybody by raising
€100,000 in less than two months. If the Blender folks can do it, the
reasoning goes, why not online game supporters? Those people, after all,
are already accustomed to paying for their experience.
The first step is to sell this plan to the bankruptcy court. The Free
Ryzom folks have not yet been able to release their proposal publicly, but
concepts have been posted. There will be a non-profit organization
allied with the for-profit company Mekensleep and Valentin Lacambre. With
this combination, the project hopes to convince the court that it has the
most interesting offer. In this way, they can also put some
significant money on the table before the donations from the community come
If the plan is accepted by the court, Mekensleep will end up owning the
code, along with the artwork, trademarks, and so on. There is some
sentiment in the Free Ryzom community for transferring the copyrights to
the non-profit group, but it seems that this decision has not yet been
made. What is clear is that all of the code would be immediately released
under the GNU General Public License (with the "any later version"
From there, the code would be managed under the terms of the project's social
contract, which is based on the Debian social contract. Among other
things, it says that players own their avatars and other objects, and
should be able to transfer them from one server to another.
The plans call for there to be multiple servers. The current Nevrax
servers would continue to be run - on a paid membership basis - as they
have been until now. But the (Linux-based) server code would be free, so
anybody with an interest could set up their own world and allow access in
whatever way pleases them best. According to the Free Ryzom folks (who
kindly talked with your editor about the project), multiple worlds were a
part of the plan from the very beginning. One of the long-term goals is to
revise that vision, creating the prospect of a community-driven metaverse
of cooperating game servers.
In the near future, however, a number of other problems need to be solved.
There is, for example, no Linux client for Ryzom; one assumes that, once
the source becomes available, that little problem could be taken care of.
Some players are concerned about the
security implications of opening up the source; in particular, they
would hate to see the gameplay ruined by a proliferation of robots. There
is, inevitably, some third-party code in the mix which would have to
be stripped out and replaced. There is even some tension within the
community about whether the primary goal is the preservation of Ryzom or
the freeing of the code.
Before work can begin on any of those issues, however, a more immediate
problem must be overcome: the project must convince the bankruptcy court
that it is the best custodian for the code. The proposal was considered on
December 5, along with proposals from other interested parties. The
current word is that some sort of decision will be announced sometime after
December 12. Should the project prevail in court, it must then
collect enough donations to complete the purchase. To that end, the
project is now asking for
donation pledges; at this time, all that is needed is to promise to give
some money. Should the project go ahead, donors will be expected to follow
through with cash. The list
of pledges is quite long; if all of those people are serious, the
project will be off to a good start.
The free software community has accomplished a great many things in recent
years, but the creation of a high-quality online multiplayer game is not
among them. This is an important area, even for those of us who lack the
time or interest for gaming; the sorts of virtual worlds being created for
only become more prevalent and important in coming years. They may be the
only place where we'll be able to find our children. Clearly, we need some
good, free virtual world infrastructure. It would be nice if we could develop it
entirely ourselves, but the fact is that software cast off from corporate
failures has long been an important source of code. Perhaps this
particular corporate disaster could yet yield benefits for the free
[The images all come from the Ryzom screenshots
gallery, which has many more.]
Comments (11 posted)
The third Desktop
(DAM3) is being held on December 7 and 8 at
OSDL's offices in Portland. Despite some rumors to the contrary, there
will still be
a few people in those offices, and the meeting is
going ahead as planned. LWN, unfortunately, will not be represented
there. Happily, most of the attendees have posted
ahead of the event, so it is possible to get a sense for
what some of the common themes will be.
Outsiders like to criticize Linux for its proliferation of distributions,
desktops, and more. Within the community, we recognize this diversity as a
form of wealth. The variety of Linux distributions encourages
experimentation with different approaches, with the resulting lessons being
learned by the community as a whole. They also ensure that we will never
be locked into a single source for our software; switching distributions is
an easy thing to do. Similarly, the competition between free desktop
projects has inspired them all to identify their users and give them the
best experience they can. There are few people who would wish for a world
with a single distribution and a single desktop.
Some of those who might wish for that world, however, may well be at
DAM3. Diversity is good for the community, but it does make life harder
for those who would support binary applications on Linux. Having to deal
with a range of desktops, packaging systems, library versions, encoding
choices, etc. creates a lot of work for application vendors. Someday,
maybe, the free software community will be so rich that nobody will ever
wish for a proprietary application for their Linux systems. Until that
time, we will either have to make life easier for those vendors or simply
write off a large subset of potential desktop Linux users.
Some other old complaints have been raised: lack of support for proprietary
codecs and DVD playback, for example. Most of the people involved seem to
understand why Linux has these limitations. But they can still wish for a
world where more things just worked.
Hardware support also shows up in a few sets of slides. This is an area
where things are getting better quickly - most wireless network adapters
should be supported before too long, for example. But video adapters
are still a problem.
A certain amount of slide space was reserved for complaints about sound
support under Linux. At the driver level, things seem to work, but not
everybody likes the ALSA API. Above that, there seems to be no consensus
on which sound server should be used. Without a consistent and reliable
way to make noise, many desktop applications will remain hard to support.
Printing also, apparently, remains a sore point, despite the great progress
that has been made in recent years. One initiative which may go forward
soon is the certification of printers which are well supported under
Linux. Beyond that, it appears that the Portland Project is going to try
to create a unified structure for print dialogs. This mechanism would try
to present a consistent interface to printing which would make it easier to
export - and use - printer-specific features. Desktop-specific dialogs
would still do the actual user interaction, but they would be using the
Portland mechanism underneath.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to be seen from the slides, however, is
the expanded view of the "desktop" being taken by the group. Mobile and
embedded systems - from the OLPC to the Nokia 770 and telephones - are
clearly seen as a sort of desktop system. Many of the issues are the same,
but the incorporation of mobile applications brings new pressures. One
can, with little effort, find plenty of evidence that the desktop projects
have not, so far, been overly concerned with memory use and overall bloat.
Small systems are forcing people to reconsider their priorities, however,
and there is likely to be an increase in the amount of development time
which goes into making things smaller. A few of the participants note that
better tools for memory profiling would be most helpful in this task.
Overall, there appears to be nobody who is willing to predict total World
Desktop Domination anytime in the near future. There is, however, a clear
level of interest in the Linux desktop, especially when one considers
desktops which fit in a shirt pocket. Interesting things are going
to happen in this area.
Comments (10 posted)
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