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.