Firefox and Ubuntu

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

I’m sure many folks are aware of the tension between Mozilla and Debian over the use of the name “Firefox” for the web browser package. A good exchange of comments between Chris Beard of Mozilla, and Mike Hommey of Debian highlights some of the challenges involved.

Both groups really, genuinely mean well. I know this because I’ve spent some time working with both of them. Both care deeply about free software and both want to see the world improved through the wide availability of high quality software that comes with the right to change it. So it is a little frustrating to see this level of public tension between two groups that have come to represent, each in their own way, something iconic about free software.

First, let me say that both groups are being entirely reasonable about their positions. Debian has every right to insist that it have the freedom to ship the package in the form that it deems most appropriate for its users, and Mozilla has every right to protect its trademarks.

It’s worth bearing in mind that Debian’s position on both free software and trademarks is very complex and not entirely consistent. Consider the recent decision to ship Etch with proprietary software built in. Firmware is in most cases X86, PPC, Mips or ARM code (architectures Debian supports) for which real source in C exists – but that source code is of course not provided. Also consider Debian’s own trademark policy which, while liberal, still restricts what can be done.

My goal in our own discussions with Mozilla has been to establish that it really is possible for a distribution that cares about free software and Mozilla to agree on a framework which gives us both what we need. The Ubuntu team went as far as preparing packages without the Firefox name in case we were unable to reach an agreement – but in the end the fact that we kept the lines of communication wide open meant that we were able to find a middle ground and ship the packages we want while still supporting the Firefox name and Mozilla’s work. Nobody sold out.

I hope that the lead we have established with Ubuntu and Mozilla will benefit Debian, establishing a precedent that allows both groups to get what they want. But I also think that it may just be that the needs of the two camps are incompatible. And that in itself is a reasonable thing.

What I would like to ask for, should that prove the case, is that both sides are as gracious about it as possible. There’s no need for name-calling in either community.

Remember – we are all committed to 99.9% of the same vision. We have far more in common than our colleagues and counterparts at Microsoft and Opera and other proprietary browser vendors. Let’s make sure the tone and the scope of the dialog between us reflects the full reality of our alignment (and in truth also our disagreements) rather than just the specific small stone in one shoe. The media love to play up differences – of course they do, it makes for a damn good story! Don’t let that be how the discussion is ultimately remembered.

Should Debian settle on IceWeasel, thats fine and dandy and does not mean that anybody should call them “fundamentalists”, as I’ve seen happening. Neither should Mozilla’s position give anyone in the Debian camp cause to imply that Mozilla are corporate junky marketroids. They simply are not. They’re damn good browser innovators, and they publish their code under free software licenses because that’s what they think is the right thing to do.

Excellent work happens on both sides, with real collaboration in the best spirit of free software development. I would in particular like to highlight the amazing work that Mike Hommey does on the IceFox (:-)) packages in Debian. There’s a huge amount of effort that goes into testing, porting, reviewing, and generally being a good free software citizen on a package of this scale, and Mike and others in Debian do a phenomenal job. In his analysis he points out that the Ubuntu and Debian packages are very similar – I think that’s a credit to Ian Jackson, who I know spends a lot of time passing Ubuntu changes to Debian, trying to make sure that there’s no unnecessary divergence between Debian and Ubuntu.

It’s a very important thing to know that an inability to agree on something – even if that thing turns out to be a dealbreaker – doesn’t mean that the other person is a bad person. Give credit where it is due, state your differences simply and without prejudice. Debian and Mozilla should be able to work together effectively on a browser, even if they can’t agree on a way to call it Firefox.

77 Responses to “Firefox and Ubuntu”

  1. UbuntuOS Says:

    […] […]

  2. David Mackey Says:

    Nice job offering a reasonable and balanced position in this heated debate.

  3. nife Says:

    I can’t see how Mozilla corp. is fully committed with Free Software since the Firefox icon is not under a free license. We all know by now that the icon is the key of the issue. What bothers me most about this, is that they are acting as if the artwork of Firefox isn’t part of the software, which, in my opinion, is rather ridiculous. I mean, if a piece of software is under a GPL license, the artwork (icons, for instance), should also be covered by that said license.

    Firefox & Debian isssues aside, rightnow, I am using the shiny new Ubuntu Edgy Eft release (the live CD mode), which works quite well for me. Congratulations !. :-)


  4. glandium Says:

    From my point of view, we both agreed that the solution about our common problem was renaming Firefox. There would be no tension if they would just leave us alone and wouldn’t start FUDing.

    Anyways, thanks for this post, Mark.

  5. Laika Says:

    “The Ubuntu team went as far as preparing packages without the Firefox name in case we were unable to reach an agreement – but in the end the fact that we kept the lines of communication wide open meant that we were able to find a middle ground and ship the packages we want while still supporting the Firefox name and Mozilla’s work.”

    From what I’ve read, also Debian has kept the lines of communication wide open during the long (starting from February 2006, IIRC) and difficult negotiations between Mozilla and Debian. Maybe Debian’s willingness to negotiate and to patiently explain all the involved problems from the distro developers’ point of view has affected the attitudes of Mozilla people and maybe this has made it easier for Ubuntu and Mozilla to find the desired middle ground?

    Originally Mozilla seemed to have several complaints concerning the modifications that Debian (and Ubuntu) have deemed necessary to make in their version of Firefox, and another difficult issue seemed to be the supporting of old versions of Firefox, which Mozilla no longer supports, and backporting security fixes. Apparently these are not insurmountable problems any more since Mozilla and Ubuntu have now found an agreement. The only major difference between Ubuntu’s and Debian’s Firefox packages appears to be that Debian cannot distribute the copyrighted Firefox icons because that would be against the Debian Free Software Guidelines. Ubuntu, of course, is not confined by DFSG.

    Hopefully Mozilla, Ubuntu, and Debian can retain their close collaboration in developing the Firefox packages, even though Debian’s version of Firefox will be distributed under a different name (and without the copyrighted Firefox icons). I use Debian and I love Firefox, and I don’t mind at all that Debian will call Firefox Iceweasel. It’s the application itself that counts, not the name or icons. :-)

  6. Levai Janos Says:

    Hi Mark, I’ve been waiting for Ubuntu’s opinion about the situation… I can’t say I’m a Firefox fan (I use Opera) but I think Ubuntu should reserv at least the name of Firefox and Mozilla because it’s users. By splitting software with different names is really confusing. One of the 1st things newbies ask me about Linux, is “Does Firefox work on it?”. So something like IceWeasel in Ubuntu would start a big confusion…


  7. Jakob Petsovits Says:

    Any explanation of how you could overcome the differences? I mean, have you found a way to do away with the legal issues, or is it more in the direction of “let’s ignore our policies in order to not put off the other side” (which would be valid for both Ubuntu and Mozilla)? What has Ubuntu done differently than Debian?

    Don’t misunderstand me, I think too that it’s cool you found common ground, but to me it seems that Ubuntu and Debian are experiencing different treatments for the same thing. You could make this clearer by explaining how this issue was actually resolved.

  8. Simon Says:

    Hey Mark.

    I am glad you made a deal with Mozilla, I noticed that in edgy we now have the original Firefox logo instead of the old blue ball. This is a good thing.

    It is unfortunate the situation that Debian is in, I know that they will work something out.

    BTW, great work on U/K/Xbuntu mate!

  9. Simon Waters Says:

    I think a lot of this stems from a lack of understanding what what “Debian Stable” is, and why it exists.

    The comments I’ve seen make me think that many on the Mozilla side have no clue on this, and think that Debian developers, and users, have some morbid love of archaic versions of software (trust me, my Debian desktop at home is usually way ahead of anything released by those Ubuntu folk [hehe]). Although my work one is Debian stable (just like the servers at work – odd that) with a few backports, and bits and pieces to make it more liveable.

    Having run Mozilla’s own Linux version, and suffered issues because they are unable to cope with the kind of issues distributions exists to address, I think that perhaps they need to step back and try understanding where Debian folk are coming from. Before making more public statements that make people involved in putting their software on several million desktops feel undervalued.

    Certainly the novel platform side of Mozilla is driven by GNU/Linux folks, as people will discover if they ever try to run it on something that isn’t Intel x86 (or PowerPC).

    But then I think a lot of people don’t yet understand where the Debian style free software distribution model is going. I suspect within a few years, downloading and installing any software not signed by your operating system vendor will be considered “reckless”. The difference is Debian, and other GNU based distro, users will do this out of choice, the rest will do it because their computer doesn’t allow them any choice.

    Whatever happened to kazehakase, there was a Gecko based browser with some nice user interface work going into it?

  10. Jussi Kukkonen Says:

    Mark, this is possibly the first writing on this subject that I can 100% agree with. It’s rare for people to be able to see all sides of an issue (especially this specific issue, it seems)… It was disheartening to read the badmouthing from Debian side and e.g. cbeard commentary (that in my opinion was not truthful, or at least not fair).

    One thing that I feel is still kind of ‘open’ is the definition of “Free” in Ubuntu… I mean, Ubuntu now ships a Firefox that can’t really be re-distributed. Do you see this as a problem or is it enough to include a build switch that enables building a re-distributable version?

  11. anonymous Says:

    Mixing the non-free firmware in the Mozilla debate is hypocrite.
    – Ubuntu shipps firmware even when it is explicitly not legal to do – see intel cards firmware.
    – Firmware is never run on your free OS CPU.
    – Firmware on your hd is easier to update then when put into a crypto-protected flash partition.
    – Firmware can be regarded as data from the opinion of the free driver.

    Going back to the Mozilla issue, Ubuntu gets a free Ticket as they like to shipp the non-free image, while Debian can’t. The Mozilla trademark issue is stupid. For example any Linux kernel out there is patched for good.

  12. Stefan Says:

    Hi Mark,

    here my small protest:
    IceWeasel’s icon is soo much better.


  13. jcanfield Says:

    Thank you! Finally a voice of reason! Not to sound like a bible thumping nutjob, but this (Matthew 12:25) comes to mind every time I hear about “in house” disputes like this .

  14. Name Says:

    “Neither should Mozilla’s position give anyone in the Debian camp cause to imply that Mozilla are corporate junky marketroids. They simply are not. They’re damn good browser innovators, and they publish their code under free software licenses because that’s what they think is the right thing to do.”

    And yet this whole debacle came about shortly after Mozilla (whoever they were) being invited to come to Microsoft’s place for something or other. Read recent FOSS news and you’ll find the related news. It also follows a former M$ security guy joining the Mozilla team. This could all be considered fishing in the realm of “tin foil hat” conspiracy theory, but for those of us who have been following the history of Microsoft since it began, it seems like, in my opinion, whenever Microsoft gets involved in something, misery follows and freedom/open source is curtailed.

    You watch, this is just the beginning, the battles from here on out will get uglier and uglier. Most of the fight is being waged by the enemy by covert means. If you keep your eyes open you’ll notice it, little shills here and there spreading their dissent, selling their souls for a paycheck from the beast.

    Names and symbols are important. Whenever a name or symbol which is already embedded in the minds of the masses associates with open source, in comes Microsoft. Over and over we’ve seen this happen.

    The only way to win vs. Microsoft is to resist by all means possible. Do not buy their products, do not visit land they own, do not cooperate, do not meet with them. The more you give in and make little agreements, the more we see situations happen where names of projects or products are changed (Lindows, Corel Linux to just name a couple) and the public loses another name or symbol behind which they may get behind the open source movement.

    Most people don’t have the time to study the history of companies and notice trends and patterns, and those who do are usually mocked by the ignorant who haven’t the IQ or attention span beyond manipulating their iPod to understand. Scream “I use a Mac!” all you want, but you’re not special, you’re buying into the same closed source nihilistic philosophy where humanity should not continue to go, in my opinion.

    If you want change, you’ll work for it and not give in. If you lust for money and the easy way out, you’ll give in just like the people before you who sold out and traded in their freedoms for slavery.

  15. brandon moore Says:


    Thanks for your initiative to create Ubuntu. I’ve been using for over a year and don’t think I could go back to Windows, or even another Linux distro for that matter. Your product is stable, sharp and I think you’re on the cutting edge of the future of operating systems. Mozilla Firefox is cool, too. Thanks for keeping the users in the loop!

  16. Malti Says:

    The world needs more people like yourself … direly.

    Soldier on Mark!

  17. ArrenLex Says:

    Pair-wise defeats

    * Option 1 defeats Option 3 by ( 271 – 42) = 229 votes.

    The Schwartz Set contains

    * Option 1 “Release Etch even with kernel firmware issues”

    The winners

    * Option 1 “Release Etch even with kernel firmware issues”

    Sorry, I’m missing it. Since when does “kernel firmware issues” equal “Special Exception to the DFSG”? I think you mixed up the winners… (this is from the site you linked).

  18. Chris Says:

    Thanks for a reasonable response.

  19. Grandalf Says:

    Firefox deserves a ton of credit for rescuing Mozilla from the ashes.

    Even today Mozilla has an ugly GUI skin, has tabbed browsing turned off, has no google search on the toolbar, etc.

    Most people never would have looked twice at Firefox if Mozilla had gotten its act together enough to pay attention to the kind of details people care about. When I use Mozilla I feel like I’m logged into an ancient Sun workstation. Firefox looks and feels modern.

    This is not to mention the fact that nobody cares about an embedded thick client email program and newsreader!

    I’m all for cooperation, but the Firefox people brought a much needed clue to the development process and that’s why they’ve taken all the glory.

  20. Jorux Says:

    Firefox’s icon is much better!

  21. Comentário de Mark Shuttleworth sobre o tema Firefox no Debian « ASF@Web Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth publicou em seu blog um cometário bastante lúcido (Firefox and Ubuntu) sobre o recente desentendimento entre os desenvolvedores do Debian e a Fundação Mozilla em relação a marca registrada Firefox (nevegador distribuído sob licença livre). E sobre como isso pode afetar o software livre, a comunidade e como o Ubuntu está preparado para enfrentar o problema. […]

  22. Marco5 Says:

    What Mozilla wants that they could not get from Debian was the ability to check any modifications to make sure they were not making a worse product which would tarnish the Firefox name. What Debian wanted was for Mozilla to trust them to know what is best, and apply whatever patches they want and still call it Firefox. Since Firefox is open source, Debian can do that, but to modify it without approval they have to not use the trademarked name.

    I think that considering what Debian wants to do, they are better off to use a non-branded Iceweasel and just do it. Then, the marketplace will decide if Debian is breaking the browser or making it better, and if people running Iceweasel find a bug, they will know that it may or may not be a Firefox bug, but that it might have come from Debian.

    By Debian’s rules, Firefox is not and has not been was a package that fit their rules of “free software” because its trademark does not allow changing and redistribution without changing the name. As a core part of their distribution, they really should have a fully free browser, which suggests Iceweasel is better.

    I think Debian was annoyed because they used to be allowed to do whatever and still call it Firefox, and now their special privilege was taken away. But if they follow their own guidelines I don’t think they should even want to use the trademarked name.

  23. Tobias Cloete Says:

    Hi Mark,
    I agree completely with your statements and hope that what you did for Ubuntu will create a peace full solution between Mozilla and Debian.
    PS: Thanx for an Excellent Linux distribution!

    Tobias Cloete [Jargon]

  24. James Says:

    “corporate junky marketroids” – Ah, but Mozilla (or at least the Firefox portion thereof) are. See their decision to downplay Firefox’s free nature in their marketing campaign. Also, Edgy’s Firefox seems to have pango rendering disabled, presumably because MoCo demanded it, at the cost of integration with the rest of the desktop.

    It is interesting to note that all of this could have been avoided if Mozilla didn’t license the icon non-free – then Debian would have been able to satisfy both DFSG and the trademark policy. What we really need is for someone to hack trademark law in a similar fashion to the way the GPL hacks copyright law. Luis, hurry up and finish your law degree and get cracking ;-)

  25. Dan Says:

    While Debians position DOES make sense, the idea of introducing a fork into one of the most successful open source projects ever, might scare end users, and in turn, hurt firefox, which is kind of the flagship of free software in the windows world.

  26. Adil Hindistan Says:

    Useful, sensible, to-the-point commentary, Mark! Hope guys on both side of the argument follow your example in setting the tone.

    BTW, Edgy rocks!
    Adil Hindistan

  27. heathenx Says:

    well put, mr. shuttleworth. your philosophy is what’s makes ubuntu so successful.

  28. ljb Says:

    Not to be a jerk, but maybe you should have just used IceWeasel and spent the extra time overseeing the quality of the upgrade process for Edgy instead. The upgrade experience was so bad it would make Microsoft blush. I started at 8:00 in the morning and when I came home that evening it was still downloading files. Then it took four hours to install after saying it would take an hour and a half. Now Firefox crashes within three seconds, even with a fully licensed trademark. Heads need to roll. Did you hire Don Rumsfeld to oversee Edgy development?

  29. beeman Says:

    Nicely spoken Mark… :)

    I hope they come to some sort of an agreement too… Personally i think it’s best to leave Firefox in Debian, there is no need for more fragmentation…

  30. matthijs Says:

    Bravo! I hope you can build a bridge between Debian and Mozilla. And good to hear (and see) that Ubuntu ships with Firefox.

  31. Béranger Says:


    You are surprisingly positive here, you almost make me believe that Canonical is much more down-to-earth than Debian. You did not mention though what will do Ubuntu: will it switch to IceWhatever, or will it continue to ship Firefox?

    Since your post ended with a word about “stating your differences simply and without prejudice”, could you enlighten me on something related to the way you’re promoting Ubuntu?

    Since Ubuntu 6.06, Canonical said: «The Ubuntu server platform has been certified for IBM’s DB2 and MySQL.» The only problem is that, when a certain OS platform is certified for a given database, this happens for a particular version of the OS, and for a particular version of the database server. When I made some enquiries, all I could find about DB2 certifications is shown here:
    * DB2 v8.2 is “Recommended” on: RHEL3, RHEL4, SLES8, SLES9, NOES9.
    * DB2 v8.2 is “Validated” on: (other distributions, including) Ubuntu 5.04.
    NOTE: “Recommended” means IBM actually builds, tests and deploys on them. “Validated” means IBM certifies the full compatibility and gives official support.

    There is no official record of IBM supporting DB2 on any other (newer) Ubuntu release, so I basically assumed that Canonical is lying and Ubuntu Server 6.06 LTS and 5.10 are not officially certified for DB2!

    Ubuntu server” first appeared with version 5.10, so if 5.04 didn’t have a “server” edition, «The Ubuntu server platform has been certified for IBM’s DB2 and MySQL.» looks again like a lie. It’s impossible that 6.06 were validated at the time of the announcement, because these things can’t move that fast.

    So: is Canonical lying or not?

    Feel free to post (or have someone post) a comment here:

  32. Demian Says:

    Nice post!
    I do agree with you, 100%. I belive in the future people will see this argument with a lot of shame.
    Sometimes it’s difficult to talk to somebody with a different opinion, but you have to make your best to understand the other side, specially with a communication as incomplete as simple text on a screen.


  33. No Says:

    IceWeasel is great as a name, but its icon is sad and dull.

  34. From Dapper to Edgy» James Galvin Says:

    […] I just installed Ubuntu 6.10 – “Edgy Eft” on my system. First impressions are good – it looks nice, and it’s very fast, particularly the boot-up process. I haven’t had a chance to check out any of the new features yet, like IceWeasel 2.0. There were a few issues with the installation – most critically the wireless card support. I’ve been using a Belkin USB wireless adapter via ndiswrapper with no problems since Breezy. Edgy detected it, for the first time, and loaded the rt73usb driver… which didn’t work properly. I blacklisted the module and opted for my trusty ndiswrapper instead – but Edgy packaged a very outdated version 1.1, which didn’t work either. This was nearly a show-stopper, since I depend on a wireless network as my only internet gateway, but luckily I had my ndiswrapper 1.8 source backed up on my /home partition and was able to get online with that. […]

  35. BOB Says:

    I really dont see the huge metaphysical debate here.

    Open source and trademarks simply cannot coexist. Trademarks are by their nature exclusionary and sole source.

    So you can make this as complicated as you want, but open source is the opposite of trademark and that goes without saying.
    But I said it.

    So Why does Firefox care about its trademark when they freely give the code? Well its still about control and largely a fear that some MS team will make an MS based Firefox derivative and leave them out in the cold.

    So the irony of an entire codebase of an excellent browser being held hostage by an icon or a name is clearly RIDICULOUS.

    And the more Firefox belabors the point the more it shows that they have control issues which extend beyond their open source license.
    So then you have to figure out what those issues are because they may come back to haunt every user and contributor and distributor in the sense of dare I say it… SCO.

  36. Tonetheman Says:

    No No No!!!!
    It is great that you were able to get firefox in like it should be. However, all debian has done is forked a great product. While I do like the icon and the name of ice weasel, all this does is confuse the end users. Admittedly there are problably only 5 end users for debian as opposed to ubuntu. If my mother was ever to use linux (not gonna happen probably) I would push her towards ubuntu. I would not push her towards anything like debian where the end user ultimately gets the shaft for ideals.
    The holy debian has forgotten that ultimately I am using a computer to do something… like surfing the web with firefox… not just sitting around and basking in the stupid OS.

  37. Moparx Says:

    Hi Mark,
    I wanted to commend you.
    It is nice to see a rational and well thought out article on the issue.

  38. Sherman Says:

    Hi Mark,
    Well done mate!
    I seriously believe this is a step forward in the right direction. I’ve been using Edgy for about 2 weeks now, and in all fairness, have seen great improvements with FF2 (beta to final). Despite the fact that the ‘alternate naming’ is just that, having ‘Firefox’ (which Mozillas’ blessing) will allow people to start using and enjoying Ubuntu quicker. They will feel right at home without having to learn that ‘this is firefox, just rebadged because of some stupid tension’.

    Anyway… well done, again.


    P.S. Hi from South Australia!

  39. Vincent Navarino Says:

    Take a bow, Mark for a job well done. Neither side is a jerk and the emphasis should be that there be a common middle ground that both sides can live with to promote the wonders that is Firefox and Linux. To dilute the brand would not be a good thing for either and I’m real happy for your mature outlook and post in a time where it is needed. Glad to hear when running Ubuntu I’ll still be running Firefox!! Thanks!

    Debian and Mozilla: please meet at a table for two where there will be free food, tasty snacks and a realization that you two are much stronger together than apart. Cheers!

  40. Zarro Boogs found. » Great post on the Debian/Firefox spork Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth on Firefox and Ubuntu […]

  41. KtecK Blog - Syndicated » Blog Archive » Firefox and Ubuntu Says:

    […] Read more here… […]

  42. Lesley Clayton Says:

    Hi Mark!

    Hmmm! Great case study – I have been wondering if anyone conducted a due diligence at the beginning of the journey so that any red flags of incompatibility would have popped up?? Parties involved must have known about the individual and unique business natures eg policies are important? None the less you have taken action and the beauty of time will reveal the fruit of the decision. It will be interesting to observe! I think there are more unifying factors than people know and I hope no one messes up the opportunity to be mates! – still important to keep our horizon – fly the right way up and focus on taking ubuntu to the world!! sweet!

  43. Diego Says:

    For the “mozilla has a non-free icon” people, I should remember that debian also has a non-free official logo (

  44. 今日链接 at 爱晚尚明 Says:

    […] Firefox and Ubuntu OpenBSD 4.0: Pufferix’s Adventures […]

  45. Baptiste Says:

    Sorry to break the congratulating atmosphere, but this post is rather contentless. The real questions are:

    1) what compromise did Ubuntu accept, and why is it not selling-out

    MarkShuttleworth: we agreed to keep an open line of communication, discuss patches and changes in good faith and continuously, and work to support Mozilla’s growth with Firefox as the cutting edge of cross-platform browserness.
    2) did Mozilla make a special treatment for Ubuntu just because you have good buzz (and a powerfull PR department)

    MarkShuttleworth: no, we started out at very different points, it was tense, the resolution came through steady correspondence and a lot of time invested by both parties.
    3) did Mozilla make a special treatment for Ubuntu just so that they can make Debian look bad; and if so, why did Ubuntu accept this role

    MarkShuttleworth:  I’ve no reason to think that’s the case, and it was certainly never proposed in those terms. If you read my blog again, I think you’ll see that I don’t believe Debian DOES look bad in maintaining its position – it’s a good, ethical, reasonable position to want to make whatever changes they want, and as a result to choose not to use the trademarked name.

    Giving good peaceful advice is nice, but discussing your own actions would be more courageous.


  46. efin Says:

    Re: NIFE

    I can’t see how DEBIAN. is fully committed with Free Software since the DEBIAN icon is not under a free license. We all know by now that the icon is the key of the issue. What bothers me most about this, is that they are acting as if the artwork of DEBIAN isn’t part of the software, which, in my opinion, is rather ridiculous. I mean, if a piece of software is under a GPL license, the artwork (icons, for instance), should also be covered by that said license. I should be able to tweak DEBIAN to make my own distro and release it with the DEBIAN name, icon and trademark but I cannot!

  47. SABDFL on Firefox in Ubuntu and Firefox vs Debian « Limulus Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth has a post up regarding the whole Firefox vs Debian issue; it confirms that Ubuntu was “able to find a middle ground and ship the packages we want while still supporting the Firefox name and Mozilla’s work.”  Wunderbar :) […]

  48. » Blog Archive » Ubuntu and Firefox Says:

    […] October 29th, 2006 in Links Mark Shuttleworth explains Ubuntu’s position on the Firefox licensing issue. I’m glad Ubuntu took the time to work it out. […]

  49. Jilles Says:

    A lot of people don’t seem to understand trademarks very well. Hence, a lot of bullshit comments here.

    Mozilla owns the trademark for Firefox. They’ve invested in this brandname and the associated branding (e.g. icons) and it is their good right to protect this brandname. The software is still free and you can copy it and name it whatever you want (as permitted by the license) except for trademarked names such as Firefox. Moreover, this protection of the brandname is not optional but mandatory. In order to be able to enforce the trademark in case e.g. Microsoft starts using the word firefox in relation to their own browser (unlikely but try to imagine), you have to able to show that you are not discriminating. You can’t try to enforce in case A and demonstrably choose not to in case B. It’s as simple as that. You can’t choose to be selective here: you have to always enforce your trademark.

    In other words, Debian adding their own patches (and going way beyond portability issues) poses a problem for the Mozilla foundation in the sense that they must either endorse the use of their trademark in relation to a product that is beyond their control (because debian refuses to comply with their policies for getting the patches approved by Mozilla) or enforce the use of their trademark. Legally they can’t endorse and have a strong case in future lawsuits regarding abuse of their trademark (i.e. it would effectively nullify their trademark). I’m sure both parties have tried to be reasonable about it but clearly giving up the trademark is not negotiable for mozilla nor is giving up the freedom to modify software fas they see fit or Debian. Arguably, Mozilla is quite flexible about how far they are willing to go, which is why Ubuntu can ship Firefox and Debian can’t.

    Nothing in the GPL states anything about trademarks, nor does the OSI impose any restrictions on trademarks. So clearly the topic of free software is unrelated to that of trademarks (in a legal sense). So anybody stating opinions on trademarked software not being free is stating opinions and not legal facts. Debian happens to have rules on both license and trademarks. That’s their good right and they should be consistent in applying those rules. The bottom line of all this whole issue however is that that is their problem and not Mozilla’s. If under Debian’s own rules, using somebody else’s trademark is impractical they must choose not to. Hence Iceweasel. Problem solved. Of course it creates a related problem that the iceweasel brand is comparatively unknown, obscure and undesireable. Again, not Mozilla’s problem.

    You can of course question the logic behind the rules that govern the Debian foundation and a lot of people seem to be doing that. It’s clearly a Debian specific issue though. Other distributions, including ones derived from Debian, don’t seem to have this problem. It all boils down to how ideological you want to be about free software.

    Personally, I’m not an idealist but a pragmatist but I’m not denying other people’s right to be more idealistic than me (out of pragmatism of course, it would be impractical otherwise). I do get pissed off when people try to enforce their ideals on others and that’s exactly what pisses me off about this whole case. pro-Debian people want the Mozilla people to change their attitude on their trademark and have been vocal in a pretty nasty way stating all sorts of bullshit about freedom, Mozilla’s commitment to freedom and other ideological crap. As Mark is stating, both parties are well within their rights and fully committed to what they believe is right. That is not the issue. I’m glad that Ubuntu chooses to be pragmatic, also in this issue.

  50. EveryDigg » Blog Archive » Shuttleworth on Firefox and Ubuntu vs. Debian Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth explains how he got Firefox ™ into more | digg story Links […]

  51. fabio Says:

    an enlightened opinion (again)

  52. Jed Says:

    Mark: Awesome.
    Everyone else: Are you crazy?
    Forget about trademarks and any legal issues just for a moment.

    So I’m a Company called ‘X’, and I make a opensource browser called ‘Y’.
    Simply put I obviously release the code under an OS license and am perfectly happy with people forking the code, I do make one request however. If anyone does fork it, and applies any changes that I have not approved, please don’t call it ‘Y’ as I want people running ‘Y’ to be running what I made. You can call your’s “You company’s Y”, but not just ‘Y’ as I don’t want to confuse my users, specifically I offer support for ‘Y’, so if 20 browsers are called ‘Y’, I’m going to have a damn hard time figuring out if you really have my ‘y’ or someone elses.

    This is completely reasonable. Even if my request isn’t legally bindable, the simple fact that I’m asking you to do that should be enough. If you can’t respect me and my request, then get the hell away from my code.

    This isn’t a hard issue to understand.

  53. It’s A Binary World 2.0 » Blog Archive » Shuttleworth Weighs in in IceWeasel Says:

    […] This has caused a lot of name-calling back and forth between the two camps.  Mark Shuttleworth, who’s Ubuntu is based in Debian, posted a reconcilatory post today whereby he called on both sides to respectfully disagree. Both groups really, genuinely mean well. I know this because I’ve spent some time working with both of them. Both care deeply about free software and both want to see the world improved through the wide availability of high quality software that comes with the right to change it. So it is a little frustrating to see this level of public tension between two groups that have come to represent, each in their own way, something iconic about free software. […]

  54. Joe Buck Says:


    Firefox isn’t the only prominent open source software that has a trademark. Linux is also trademarked, but Linus does not require that he personally review and approve every patch in any version of the kernel that is going to be called Linux.
    Allowing developers to experiment with patches and allow the public to test them helps the software to improve; Mozilla Corp’s fears that this will somehow bring discredit or damage on the reputation of Firefox are ill-considered and, by discouraging
    experimentation, discard some of the primary advantages of free software/open source.

    The Linux kernel shows that the world does not end if the trademark holder allows third-party developers freedom to innovate.

  55. Bubba Says:

    I’m not sure I see any real information in the above post. Ubuntu is shipping Firefox as delivered by Mozilla.

    So are all the other distributions – except Debian.

    The issue I see currently is that once we are past the installer there is no real benefit to running Ubuntu over Debian. My parents want stable and reliable for their email and browser systems – not a upgrade process that makes Gentoo’s “emerge -uvD world” once a year look like cake.

    Please, Mark. Your time has a value. Spend it on delivering a quality product to your customers – not on PR stunts like this.

  56. MrCopilot Says:

    The solution in my mind is a simple no-brainer. Firefox’s debian package maintainer should work for Mozilla. Mozilla keeps patches in house, approves for quality and can release FireFox under its own name in the debian format.

    Why is this not a viable option? Anyone?

    Alternative 2: FirefoxD, Problem Solved, No Splitting up brand Name Recognition like the current IceWeasel solution, No Trademark Problem.

    Why is this not a viable option? Mark? Moz? Debs?

  57. James Says:

    Good on Ubuntu.

    Debian needs to step back and look at the bigger picture. They’re just going to create confusion with this IceWeasel sillyness.

  58. its about time» Blog Archive » links for 2006-10-29 Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth » Blog Archive » Firefox and Ubuntu The firefox/debian quibble – and the ubuntu take on it all. (tags: blog firefox ubuntu debian) […]

  59. John H Says:

    Bubba: Have you read Mike Hommey’s post as linked by Mark? Ubuntu applies more patches to the vanilla Mozilla Firefox than Debian. It is not “shipping Firefox as delivered by Mozilla”.

    Personally I don’t see why this whole discussion needs to be so heated. Ubuntu is willing to include the non-free Firefox logo, so Mozilla is willing to let Ubuntu use the FF name. Debian is not willing to include the non-free Firefox logo, so Mozilla isn’t willing to let it use the FF name. That’s it. End of story.

    Ubuntu’s main driver, as I understand it, is to provide a user-friendly desktop based on free software. Given the priority of user-friendliness, a degree of flexing to keep the familiar name/logo for the leading free web browser makes sense. Debian’s number one priority, by contrast, is software freedom. Hence for Debian to flex on this issue would strike at the heart of its raison d’etre in a way that doesn’t apply to Ubuntu.

    Some people agree with Debian’s philosophy, some people don’t. It’s called choice. Or even – oh, what’s that word again? – freedom.

  60. Sanne Says:

    “an inability to agree on something … doesn’t mean that the other person is a bad person.”

    Thank you for your words, Mark. They are very important and very true and apply to almost every ocurrence of human interaction. We need more people who think and act like you.


  61. ljb Says:


    The only thing that keeping a trademark means is that people have to get permission to use the trademarked name. Everything else you wrote is blah, blah, blah. Keeping a trademark has absolutely nothing to do with approving code changes. You might argue that it is in the best interest of Mozilla that they prevent anyone from changing the code, Microsoft argues that it is in their best interest to prevent anyone from changing the code. In either case it is a matter of restricting freedoms and is completely irrelevant as it has nothing to do with the trademark.

    To Others Trying to be “Practical”:

    Keep in mind, if you mention Mozilla to most people they will think you mean Godzilla. Why didn’t they keep the name Netscape that even to this day has spectacular name recognition?

    You can still install Firefox(TM) if you want. Go to Synaptic and click the button. Easier than with Windows. If Firefox(TM) is open source, then anyone is free to fork the code anytime they want. If they want everyone else to use the Firefox name, then they have to accomodate everyone else. Don’t give me these arguments about the necessity of intellectual property demanding restrictions on freedom to encourage innovation. If they don’t want anyone else changing the code, they should change the license and distribute it in binary-only form.

    It’s not necessary to choose sides in this debate. Mozilla can have Firefox(TM) and Debian can have IceWeasel. Problem solved. No need to look at the “bigger picture”. Some people just don’t get it. From a practical point of view, consider that Firefox(TM) on Ubuntu is a pile of crap that keeps crashing, so there should be a fork anyway to do what Mozilla doesn’t want to do when it goes after the Windows dollars and ignores Linux.

  62. SMK Says:

    So what exactly was the deal that you brokered?

    Is Ubuntu passing its changes/patches for Mozilla products back to Mozilla first for approval?

  63. | Blog / Ein wenig mehr Ubuntu bei Ubuntu? browse Says:

    […] Nachdem Debian letztens die Umbenennung von Thunderbird und Firefox angek

  64. Malix Says:

    So what about this bug . This was reported on 2006-03-05 I try to help but apparently none is caring on this.

  65. Jan Kotuc Says:

    Why didn’t you do the same with Mozilla Thunderbird? Any plans to include the official icon?

  66. Around the web | Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth – Firefox and Ubuntu – sanity in the post, much less in the comments. (thanks Steve) […]

  67. goodwork ewd Says:


  68. Ari Says:

    My biggest problem is that IceWeasel is such a derogatory name. Imagine if I came up with my own distro of Debian and called it SkunkSmell or DirtyRat. I could do it but I don’t think Debian users will appreciate it.

  69. jonas Says:

    I recently realized that due to the upgrade of iceweasel many of my browser extensions and plugins will not operate properly. It takes away the ease and adds a bunch of garbage to waste time on.

  70. No Expert - Shuttleworth the Peacemaker Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth spoke out this mornig for his Ubuntu about the controversy between Debian and Mozilla over the use of Firefox trademarks. Mark announced that unlike Debian, Ubuntu has negotiated a deal with Mozilla that is acceptable to both parties, and so that Ubuntu will continue to package Firefox with their systems. […]

  71. Jabberwocky Says:

    What has keno gaming got to do with Ubuntu or Shuttleworth,
    i wonder ?

    Hm these viral blog spiders sure do get around.
    depositing their advertising vermin
    in inappropriate spaces ;-(
    (It’s such a desperate act that – cyber squatting one’s irrelevant links on someone else’s cyber-plot…
    Just like spam….must be the Lowest life forms of the cyber marketing food chain who do this…)

    get yourself a better editor/blog checker/blog gatekeeper, Mark ;)

  72. Timothy Says:

    Thank you Mark, for the sound comments on this issue.

    Someone mentioned that the icons and marketing/branding of firefox should be as available for reuse as the code itself. But think about the possible ramifications of that. If a windows user decides to try linux, looks around, and gets some random distribution (think special use distros like dsl, etc.) they could think “Oh, thats what Linux is about” and walk away disappointed. That is just what Firefox is trying to avoid.

    They have made some really great software, and a powerful web browser continues to bridge the gap between the linux and windows desktops. If everybody and his brother could make a “firefox” any way they wanted, the browsers popularity would be damaged, as well as the image of linux and open source in some circles. I for one am glad that such a great program is often a windows user’s “first taste” of open source. A slow, steady migration has begun, lets get behind the brands that make linux shine. That will only make free software better in the end.

  73. Top Unix News » Shuttleworth on Firefox and Ubuntu vs. Debian Says:

    […] read more | digg story […]

  74. Steve Says:

    Ubuntu is great and I use it.

    Firefox is good too, but good or not, I don’t have much of a choice. I am forced to use it because Ubuntu doesn’t allow me to easily install it’s competitor Iceweasel.

    It’s not really about branding and you have too much business experience not to know that.

    Debian didn’t want to change the brand. Debian wanted to make changes to the functionality of Firefox which affected the Mozilla Corporation’s business model. Google needed a browser to be compatible with their web services ( Google mail etc. ) and they couldn’t rely on their rival Microsoft being helpful with regards to Internet Explorer. What was the solution? They poured money and resources into Firefox and the Mozilla foundation lapped it up – but there was a price to pay. Mozilla lost a little of their independence. I only need to see which the default search engine is on Firefox to know that.

    Debian wanted to cut out some of the corporate built in defaults and because of the open license the only way the Mozilla corporation could stop them was by calling them on the brand. So GNU forked the code and created Iceweasel, mostly the same Firefox code base with some of the corporate crud cut out and in some cases replaced.

    It wasn’t about icons or brand.

    Ubuntu is basking in a warm glow at the moment but that will change if you don’t allow your userbase to make their own choices.

    Ubuntu is a fantastic bundle of software and I am glad it offers me the opportunity to install non free components if I choose, but it is very disappointing that it does not also give me the opportunity to install the ‘free’ versions of software which I would prefer.

    I look forward to having the choice of installing Iceweasel and Icedove in future Ubuntu editions – if your arrangement with the Mozilla foundation prevents you from allowing this, let us know.

  75. 451 CAOS Theory » 451 CAOS Links - 2006.10.27 Says:

    […] Firefox and Ubuntu, here be dragons, Mark Shuttleworth (Blog) […]

  76. Sobre Mozilla, Debian, “trademarks” y libertades « Noticias del web Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth opina en su blog sobre el tema de Debian y Mozilla, claramente con intención de agradar a todo el mundo. Entre […]

  77. Una histeria muy personal » Google Latitude en HTC Magic, Ubuntu y Archlinux Says:

    […] la uni para hacer unas prácticas. Encontraremos problemas tanto en Archlinux como en Ubuntu 9.04. El logo y la marca de Firefox no son software libre, con lo que llaman a la versión 3.5 de Firefox Shiretoko. Eso hace que no podamos instalar Google […]