16.10.06

Still on FireFox and IceWeasel


Note: this blog post is being written offline, so it completely lacks links. Sorry...

Revisiting the issue of Mozilla Corporation's trademark and licensing issues, that made GNU fork their software making completely-free alternatives aiming to be adopted by some Linux distro's, and on the fact that Debian is going to use it... It seems that the last few days some nasty comemnts were being made by several parts, namedly by Mozilla and Debian folks, but the thing that must be taken in consideration is that, taking out a few exceptions, this core points are taken as granted:

  • Mozilla Foundation ponder on their objectives, and they believe that they have to enforce this policies to reach them;

  • Most of GNU/Linux distro's ship now Firefox as the 'by default' browser. Yet, to keep shiping Firefox they have to change their packaging policies;

  • While most distro's want to keep shipping Firefox, they can only do it by creating packaging policy exceptions, thus:

  • A distro have to chose between shiping Mozilla's software by having "special policies" for those packages, or to choose alternative software to package;

  • Both GNU, Mozilla and Debian communities are OK with any distro's choice, whether it is ship Firefox or an alternative like IceWeasel;

  • All my posts that refer to Firefox are wrong: it seems that the real name is FireFox :-P;

  • Mozilla Foundation has no problems with IceWeasel, as a matter of fact Mozilla Fondation Europe supports the idea. Yet,

  • The Mozilla Foundation has their feeling kind of hurt with IceWeasel not being a distro fork but a GNU fork (I'll talk about this after this items).

  • For a distro, like Debian, that chooses not to ship FireFox, several things can be done (I'll explain further).



Now, my personal judgement on this is that the best thing a distro can do is stop shipping FireFox, thus not letting upstream affect their policies and overal package quality. Accepting the instances needed to keep shiping Mozilla's products can doom the overall packaging system and thus the quality of the distribution itself.

Those wanting to still use Firefox, say, in Debian, can do the same that they would do in a non-package-driven Operating System like Windows or Mac OS: go to FireFox's website and download it there. Those who are used to use the brilliant package system and learned to love them will easilly rather use another browser than do that.

Mozilla folks don't really like IceWeasel being from GNU because that hurt their feelings: it's a statement that Mozilla's products are not free software. While that is true, stating that in your face is a strong position and it is understandable that it hurts their feelings. Yet, each company/foundation can take their positions and live with it. If Opera isn't free software and still has a market, the same can happen to FireFox. Mozilla's just shifting paradigms, and the market is reacting to that. Tough.

For a distro, like Debian, that chooses not to ship FireFox, there are several things that can be made, and setting IceWeasel as the default browser probably isn't the best choice. For instance, Debian ships Gnome by default, and Gnome uses Epiphany as the default web browser. In the same way, KDE has Konqueror as the default browser. If a user wants to use another browser, they just have to do what I already have (since I don't use FireFox but SeaMonkey): apt-get install browser-of-choice. If a distro does not like Epiphany and/or Konqueror (and I'm not going to blame them), IceWeasel is an alternative but not the only one. There are plenty of browsers out there. But if you want a FireFox-like browser, I would support the use of an IceWeasel 1.0 (which still needs to appear), but only until Flock becomes 1.0. Flock is a Firefox-based browser that supports everything that FireFox does and more. Furthermore, Flock's license won't restrict distro's as FireFox does (but that can be made sure by simply talk to Flock's developers and ask it). Betting on the development of IceWeasel may be good on the short term, but I have doubts on if it is the thing to do in the long term. I mean: doing the effort of making IceWeasel 1.0 is fully supported by me, but after that, and shipping IceWeasel, the efforts around it can be applied to help the already big Flock team to stabilize (which according to them doesn't take much, they're already heading for an 1.0 release). I was quite surprised to see that there's no Flock package in Debian, not even in experimental. I understand that Flock is still in a beta stage, but so there is a lot of other software. If the "dropping FireFox" resolution is made only for Etch (and if Mozilla Foundation let's us do it), then... Etch is aimed to be released at December 2006, Flock 1.0 in Q4 2006. Why not putting an effort of packaging Flock and replace FireFox with Flock instead of IceWeasel and such?

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