Powered by Firefox

The discussion of how to brand products that use Mozilla technology has come up again. (1 2 3 4 5) This discussion has actually come up repeatedly over the years, with no conclusion. In the past I’ve given my opinion to Mozilla directly, but now I have a blog. So here’s my opinion.

I believe there are at least two very distinct situations here:

  • Shipping Mozilla technology (for instance, embedding Mozilla)
  • Shipping a customized version of the Firefox browser

Unfortunately both these things have all been lumped into “powered by Mozilla,” but customizing Firefox is not “powered by Mozilla,” it is “powered by Firefox”.

(Incidentally the term “powered by Firefox” has been used before to describe the Joga.com Companion extension which was “developed in partnership by Mozilla and Joga.com” and “chang[es] the browser’s look and feel.”)

But what would “powered by Firefox” mean in practice? I believe that it would mean a customized version of Firefox that adds to Firefox, but does not take away (more detail on that later). Here are some browsers that are “powered by Firefox.”

You’ll notice that these are all produced by Google or Mozilla. So why doesn’t Mozilla allow someone other than Google and themselves to ship customized versions of Firefox that are labeled as such? They certainly indicate that it is possible, but clearly it is not happening. I think I know why. It’s because of Mozilla’s Distribution Trademark Policy.

I understand that Mozilla Corporation owns the Firefox trademarks and as such, they have the right to do whatever they want with them and to actively work to protect the quality of a browser associated with those trademarks. I also understand that Mozilla Corporation is a business, and it is in their interest to partner with companies to produce customized versions of Firefox for revenue. But for them to dictate that the Mozilla Corporation is the only company that can customize Firefox and call it “Firefox” and use the Firefox logos is simply stifling competition.

There need to be better rules in place for other entities that want to customize the browser and distribute browsers with those customizations.

(And please don’t try to invoke Firefox Community Edition here. That’s not what we’re talking about. You can’t use logos and honestly calling something “My Company Browser – Firefox Community Edition” is a little cumbersome. Not to mention that fact that Mozilla provides no guidance on rebranding the installer or customizing just the name of the browser without rebuilding the whole thing from scratch.)

I propose that a new policy be created to supplement the Mozilla Community Edition Policy allowing for the creation of Firefox Brand Edition or Brand Browser – Powered by Firefox.

Here are some suggestions for how this would look:

  • Underlying browser must be a shipping version of Firefox and must receive updates from Mozilla
  • Default theme may be changed but user must have the ability to switch back to the original Firefox theme
  • Extensions may be installed provided they do not remove any built in Firefox behavior or hide it from the user
  • Extensions may not be hidden, but they may be marked uninstallable (note users can still disable them)
  • Browser must be installed in a directory other than “Mozilla Firefox” (to allow for coexistence with an official Firefox)
  • If the bookmarks are customized, the original bookmarks must be provided in some manner
  • Search engines may not be removed, but they may be added and the default may be changed

I would love to see Mozilla Corporation do something in this area so that some other businesses can compete with them on a level playing field.

As a side note, enterprises don’t have to worry about this restrictions as long as the customized browser is distributed within their organization (which is one entity). Note you need to be careful about distributing to independent contractors, as technically they are not your employees and you might violate the Mozilla Corp. distribution policy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “Powered by Firefox

  1. good post mike — fwiw, we do allow this type of work now — we’ve got examples in the wild from Deutsche Telecom, Baidu, Yandex & others — but it’s not self-serve quite yet.

    kev will no doubt post an update here in a bit, but the thing we’re most sensitive about & still working through on the Firefox distribution side is the inclusion of extensions that could be harmful. so to date, we’ve required a contract with us (they’re generally very simple, and with no economics whatsoever). we want to move to a self-serve type system with both tech & contract, but it’s a few months off, probably.

    and i think it is, as you point out, a little orthogonal to “powered by mozilla” — this is really a flavored firefox distribution program.

    anyway, good post & great articulation of the issues.

  2. @John:

    Looking around, I see a Yandex Firefox toolbar, for instance, but I don’t see a customized version of Firefox for Yandex or any of the others you mentioned. Can you point me to those please?

    Looking at your partners directory:


    I see Fujitsu-Siemens, Google, Packard-Bell, portal20?, Real, Seznam and Yahoo!.

    Unfortunately, all of those files are MAR files so there is no easy way to look at them and see what customizations you allowed for those partners.

  3. @Mike: my Russian is a little, um, rusty (?), but here’s where the Yandex offer is: http://fx.yandex.ru/

    But like I mentioned, Kev will weigh in here when he gets a moment. We’re still a little ways away from working through what we want to allow from a user experience, branding, look & feel, and search economics point of view. We have some ideas here, it’s just not as high a priority as some other stuff that’s been going on.

    (fwiw, Portal2.0 is a company in Taiwan)

    John Haller’s Portable Firefox is another example of something we’ve allowed that’s not from us per se.

  4. I guess I should add, too, that fundamentally the thing that we worry most about is that Firefox continue to mean something to end users about what they can trust, where updates come from, etc. That’s why we worry over extensions in particular. It really isn’t about competition at all, and I think would have more positive effects than negative to open up more broadly, in particular in places like Russia & China where our user agent share is still lower than we want from a web compatibility point of view (getting over 10% or so really causes banks & governments to shift).

    So this is not about competition in any way — I’m very happy for others to tweak & distribute — but we just haven’t gotten to a point where we’ve made it programmatic yet.

  5. @Melcher:

    My response is “IBM already did this a long time ago, why is someone doing it again?”

    In this case, it really is “powered by Mozilla” because the code being used in Eclipse is Mozilla code, not Firefox.

  6. Hey Mike, good post, and it covers a good chunk of what my role is. I work with the folks who want to make customized versions of Firefox for distribution (where distribution can be through websites, bundling, physical media, etc.). Most of those customized versions are distributed by the partner organizations themselves, and the .mar files you’ve outlined are the files required for major updates and apply to partner builds that existed pre 2.0 (there aren’t many).

    We do permit organizations to create customized versions of Firefox, and we work with them to specify what changes they’re making and create a distribution agreement around that. The DA gives us contact points, specifies terms for distribution, and gives both sides contact points into both organizations. We have guidelines that are not dissimilar to what you’ve outlined above (with some changes to things like default themes and extensions), and the aim of them is to ensure that users have a great experience with any version of Firefox they come across.

    The process to kick it off is what John outlined, a mail to the partners list in the link you reference to the partnerships page off of Mozilla. One of the biggest todos I have this year is to deploy a web-based service that will allow organizations to put a customized version of Firefox together that can be reviewed and released quickly, and that meets the guidelines we set out for those distributions.

    Our biggest concern around customized builds is user experience. We want it to be great, and we definitely want groups to be able to showcase the flexibility of the platform through customizations. We also want to know what folks are doing with the product (and want to do with the product), and be able to talk to them about it.

    I’m happy to spend some time talking to you about what we’ve been doing from a program/process side of things if you like, and I’ll be posting about the goals of partnering (and the programs we have) in the next month or so. I’m off next week, but feel free to drop me a line on May 12 or later, and I can give you a better overview.