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Debian Fights Mozilla's Fire, Thunder With 'Ice'

Sometimes you fight fire with fire. In this case you do it with ice.

Neither Mozilla Firefox nor Mozilla Thunderbird are likely to be in the next Debian GNU/Linux release. Mozilla is still hoping that it can come to an agreement with Debian but at this point it seems likely that Debian users will see IceWeasel (for Firefox) and IceDove (for Thunderbird).

The renaming comes after weeks of a sometimes bitter dispute between Mozilla and Debian about the latter's compliance with Mozilla's trademarks and usage policies for Mozilla applications.

There are two key issues in the dispute: logo usage and patch management.

The logo issue concerns Debian's non-use of the Firefox logo with the Firefox browser. Debian considers the trademarked Firefox logo "non-free" and thus non-compliant with the Debian Free Software Guidelines.

Mozilla claims that using the Firefox name without the official branding is a trademark violation.

Furthermore, Mozilla wants Debian's Firefox package maintainers to pass patches they make back through Mozilla for approval.

The same issues affect Mozilla's Thunderbird e-mail client.

The solution?

If the packages are renamed, not called Firefox or Thunderbird and don't use Mozilla's trademarks, then the issues of logo usage and patches go away.

It's not an ideal solution, but apparently it's the solution that will stick.

Debian developer Alexander Sack has now made the move to rename the Mozilla Thunderbird packages to IceDove.

IceWeasel is set to replace Firefox, though it's not clear at this point whether Debian will use the GNUzilla IceWeasel project or just rename its own Debian packages.

Ubuntu Linux users will also be affected by the move since Ubuntu is derived from Debian and uses Debian's Mozilla packages.

Ubuntu users are keenly aware of the situation and have already begun the process of designing new logos for both IceWeasel and IceDove.

Mozilla's vice president for engineering, Mike Schroepfer isn't particularly pleased with the current outcome of the dispute with Debian.

"There are certain constraints we have and rules we must use to enforce our trademark," Schroepfer told internetnews.com. "It has put us in the unfortunate position and end result with Debian."

Yet even though Debian has issues with Mozilla, it is still Mozilla that enables Debian to actually have the derivative e-mail and browser projects.

"The reason why IceWeasel exists is because we make it possible for people to take our source build a derivative browser," Schroepfer said. "That's part of the mission of being an open source browser and it's part of our DNA."

From Schroepfer's point of view, Mozilla needs to police its trademark to ensure quality and trust.

"The key thing is that the point of having a logo and a name is that people have some sense of the quality of what that thing is and can trust what it is and who it came from and that's the source of all of this," Schroepfer said.

The big picture for Schroepfer is that it's all about providing solid products and enabling users the ability to see what's what's going on and look at source code. In that sense there is a common mission.

"There definitely is a path forward here to make sure that all of us achieve our common mission," Schroepfer said. "Which is believing that open source is the best way to build amazing high-quality software that people love to use.

"Hopefully we can work out something with Debian in the future."