Ubuntu 8.10 testers who upgraded their Firefox setups to version 3.0.2 have noticed a gratuitous End-User License Agreement presented by the kind folks at Mozilla. This is the first time that Mozilla has asked Canonical to include an EULA, a controversial action that has triggered substantial debate over at Launchpad and Ubuntu Forums.
The document is displayed the first time one starts Firefox after installing or upgrading it. According to Mark Shuttleworth, Firefox cannot be distributed with Ubuntu with its non-free artwork and name without the document being shown this way. While agreeing to the terms appears to some individuals as a one-time deal and a minor annoyance, it does disrupt the free desktop experience. A major point raised at the forums is that free desktop users do not expect to have to agree to multiple licenses; only proprietary software such as Adobe Flash and Adobe Acrobat Reader present their own license agreements. That Firefox itself should have a separate license is quite alarming.
Numerous solutions have been suggested, but the most promising involves simply including the same software without the proprietary artwork and branding. A trip through the repositories reveals ABrowser, an unbranded version of Firefox that is Firefox for all intents and purposes. This package depends on Firefox, but applies its own artwork and calls itself “Web Browser.” ABrowser supports all Firefox add-ons, so users should find no trouble switching to it. It’s no wonder that Debian does not include Firefox by default, but instead recommends Iceweasel.
Why must Canonical include Firefox by default if ABrowser does the job? By packaging a product called “Mozilla Firefox,” Canonical is extending the popularity of Firefox; Mozilla should be bending to Canonical’s wishes, not the other way around.
If you haven’t seen or have missed the EULA, just navigate to
Sept 15, 2008: Mitchell from Mozilla Corporation has posted an update on his blog. The post and its accompanying discussion provide more information for users looking to evaluate the situation.