On Firefo^WIceWeasel

Recently there's been some awe in the Free Software and general Linux world from several people over the fact that Debian is dropping Firefox from its distribution, and planning to replace it with GNU IceWeasel.

Personally, I don't see what else the Firefox maintainers should do. While I can understand the Mozilla people's concern over modified (read: possibly trojaned) versions of Firefox and that they need to protect their trademark against abuse, I can't believe that there can't be a better way to handle this than to require review of every patch in the Debian package. After all, packaging a browser requires more than just writing a script that gets it compiled and that gets the compiled stuff in the .deb archive. There is also branding to be done—the Debian firefox package contains a search engine for Debian packages. I doubt this is part of the original firefox source, and there are more things. Additionally, sometimes you may have to change stuff so that it works with the specific quirks of the Debian distribution, or other things.

Finally, in accordance with its published policy on the matter, the Debian distribution also wants to be able to distribute security-patched versions of Firefox after Debian Stable releases; and we want to do that not just by throwing in the new version of Firefox, but by using the older version, patching it so that the security bug (and only the security bug) gets fixed, and releasing that. We can't use the official mozilla.org/mozilla.com source for that, since they cease security support after half a year or so (which is, by far, not enough for Debian); and the discussion in the bug report on the matter does not inspire confidence that we would be allowed to release a security-fixed version of firefox and still call it firefox. The alternative would be to forget about our own security releases and ceding to the braindead mozilla.org/mozilla.com security policy, but I have a pretty public opinion on that one.

So that leaves us with not adhering to their braindead trademark policy, which requires us to choose another name. And as it happens, there already appears to be a piece of software that not only is a forked Firefox, it also drops non-free software from the release, something which Debian has to do anyway. So why not use that instead?

BTW, yes, I did call their trademark policy braindead. No, IANAL. But you don't have to be a lawyer to see that doing something like the way Debian manages its trademark—you're not allowed to call it "official" unless your product is bit-by-bit the same thing as what Debian produces—is sane enough without being a nuisance like the firefox trademark policy.