« Bloody fanatics »

Dear various people I’ve had the pleasure to read on various mailing-lists, forums, and blogs, about Firefox® versus Iceweasel.

If the fanatic named Richard Stallman hadn’t been a « fanatic » when he struggled with his printer, Free Software may not exist[1].

If the fanatics building our distributions weren’t « fanatics », we’d still be using XFree86 instead of X.org and would, very probably, be stuck in the 20th century[2].

If the fanatics behind Debian didn’t fork cdrecord when it became clear that its author wouldn’t change his behaviour (the licence change being the start point), we’d still be using various unofficial forks of cdrecord with no upstream support and wasting packagers time busy with maintaining patches instead of getting stuff done[3].

I am sure there are much more examples.

So, here are the facts[4] as I understand them:

  • Firefox is free software.
  • However it comes with a trademarked logo and a trademarked name
  • Mozilla’s conditions to grant trademark licences is to get patches signed off by Mozilla.
  • Mozilla asked that Debian either stops patching Firefox, or rename it, to comply with these requirements.
  • Debian renames the Mozilla products in order to comply, because they still want to be able to apply the patches they see fit in their packages, such as maintainance of the 1.0.x branch, better integration with non-Windows platforms, build fixes to enable building on 11 different architectures, and so on, and also because the conditions for the trademark licence are not DFSG-compatible.

Now, what exactly does not fit into current free software practices in this? Why do some people get all worked up by this requested name change? Did anyone really seriously thought for more than a milliseconds that Debian would actually «bend the DFSG a little»[5] in order to keep the Firefox name? This is not how Debian works, and their uncompromising attitudes are actually one of their greatest assets.

Do free software, or do open-source, but when you choose a free software licence, don’t expect people to handle it like an open-source one.