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Firefox vs. the Web

firefoxFrom the open source branding files:

One of the most hotly debated topics in years is now bubbling up in the Mozilla community as people debate the position of Web vs. Firefox.

There was a time when Firefox was just a browser, the view by which freedom loving people could see and interact with the web. The primary brand was Firefox as an enabler of the Web. That's now sliding a bit as Mozilla brands Firefox as its own operating system and ecosystem of app.

"To what extent, if any, are we willing to promote 'the open web' or 'HTML5' over 'Firefox', when the success of one and the success of the other are in tension?" Mozilla staffer Gervase Markham wrote in a mailing list message.

It's a question that has spawned a mailing list thread with over 50 message and countless side discussions over the last two weeks.

Fundamentally, Mozilla is investing in Firefox as its uber brand for the Web and in particular the Firefox OS Marketplace which is where Firefox OS apps will be sold. Firefox is no longer the name of an open source browser it's an umbrella brand.

"Over the next few years we are transitioning "Firefox" from meaning "desktop browser" into our brand umbrella for a range of consumer products: Marketplace, OS, browsers, and anything else we create for mass consumers in the future," Mozilla staff David Slater, wrote in a bugzilla entry. "As for the notion "we'll distribute apps that run in other browsers", our goal is to extend the meaning of "Firefox", not to limit it to mean "desktop browser."

From a branding perspective, I understand the marketing imperative to leverage and extend existing brand equity. From an open web perspective and from a historical technical perspective, I think this is a terrible move. I personally have always seen Firefox as an enabler for the open web, not the definition of it.

Ultimately though, Mozilla is now run by executive management that is very much focused on mobile and come from the mobile world. Branding based on the leading product is great way to expand awareness and if ultimately it all rolls back into more awareness for something is inherently open, then perhaps this isn't such a bad thing after all.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.