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.
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