(Post updated to remove money reference. I was simply referring to the fact that Mozilla and Firefox have equity in their brand and most brands require royalty payments with the use of their branding.
Also, to be clear, this post is 100% my opinion, not IBM’s or any other company.)
I’ve been thinking more about shipping custom versions of Firefox and I think I finally figured out what bothers me so much about the situation:
If you take away the Firefox name, which Mozilla requires you to do, you are left with no distinguishable identity at all.
And please don’t tell me that “Mozilla” is the identity. Mozilla describes lots of different technology, as well as a foundation and a company. It’s not the core identity of the Firefox browser.
When I look at typical open source projects, I see their “free” identity and their “branded” identity. For instance Apache is the “free” identity, and some of the “branded” identities are Oracle Database or the IBM WebSphere application server. There’s a core Linux/GNU “free” identity and “branded” identities like Red Hat Linux and Ubuntu Linux. StarOffice and Lotus Symphony are “branded” identities for the “free” OpenOffice technology. I could name many more, but in all of these cases, the “branded” identities do not usually hide (and they are certainly not required to hide) the “free” identity that they are based on.
But what about Firefox? Firefox only has a “branded” identity. It does not have a “free” identity. If you take away the Firefox name (I’m not talking about logos here), you are left with software that has no name. Right now it is called Minefield, and in the past it has been Deer Park or Bon Echo, but it doesn’t have a name. You can’t even say it’s based on Mozilla Firefox, even if it is. (I’m not convinced this is enforceable, but it is what Mozilla says you have to do.)
We can better explain this with an example. Let’s say a company like Disney wanted to create version of Firefox that included a Disney extension and had a some custom theming for Disney, as well as some Disney bookmarks. They approach Mozilla first, but Mozilla says “no.” Disney now has two choices. They can either attempt to create “Firefox Community Edition, Disney version” or ship something from Disney called “the Disney Browser.” This browser would be Firefox modified with an extension, some theming and some rebranding, but all Mozilla and Firefox names would have to be removed, and they could not tell anyone that it is based on Firefox.
Now as far as the community edition idea goes, I don’t think this is what Mozilla intended and I believe they would complain. As a matter of fact, I bet you are going to see the whole community edition idea go away because it allows for the misuse of the Firefox trademark. In addition, the idea is so ambiguous, it’s kind of worthless anyway (Change certain preference settings? Where is this documented?).
“The Disney Browser” is a more likely scenario, and I think you will see that in the future, but honestly it’s just kind of sad. Why can’t someone say that the browser they ship is Firefox? Especially if the code inside is 100% Firefox with some theming/branding or extensions?
Mozilla really needs to fix this. The browser IS Firefox. The source code IS Firefox. They simply ship a branded version called “Mozilla Firefox” that uses their logos, their theme and their extensions. Other people should be free to use the name Firefox without Mozilla and without the Firefox logos, since Firefox is the ONLY term that identifies the browser. It’s not Mozilla. It’s Firefox. This is how other open source projects operate, and this is how Mozilla should operate. Unless they can come up with a good name that describes that browser without any branding.