My honourable friend Bradley Kuhn thinks Mozilla should serve its users by refusing to give them what they want.
[Clarificatory update: I wrote this post before I’d seen the official FSF position; the below was a musing on the actions of the area of our community to which Bradley ideologically belongs, not an attempt to imply he speaks for the FSF or wrote their opinion. Apologies if that was not clear. And I’m a big fan of (and member of) the FSF; the below criticisms were voiced by private mail at the time.]
One weakness I have seen in the FSF, in things like the PlayOgg and PDFReaders campaigns, is that they think that lecturing someone about what they should want rather than (or before) giving them what they do want is a winning strategy. Both of the websites for those campaigns started with large blocks of text so that the user couldn’t possibly avoid finding out exactly what the FSF position was in detail before actually getting their PDF reader or playback software. (Notably missing from the campaigns, incidentally, were any sense that the usability of the recommended software was at all a relevant factor.)
Bradley’s suggestion is that, instead of letting users watch the movies they want to watch, we should lecture them about how they shouldn’t want it – or should refuse to watch them until Hollywood changes its tune on DRM. I think this would have about as much success as PlayOgg and PDFReaders (link:pdfreaders.org: 821 results).
It’s certainly true that Mozilla has a different stance here. We have influence because we have market share, and so preserving and increasing that market share is an important goal – and one that’s difficult to attain. And we think our stance has worked rather well; over the years, the Mozilla project has been a force for good on the web that other organizations, for whatever reason, have not managed to be. But we aren’t invincible – we don’t win every time. We didn’t win on H.264, although the deal with Cisco to drive the cost of support to $0 everywhere at least allowed us to live to fight another day. And we haven’t, yet, managed to find a way to win on DRM. The question is: is software DRM on the desktop the issue we should die on a hill over? We don’t think so.
Bradley accuses us of selling out on our principles regarding preserving the open web. But making a DRM-free web is not within our power at the moment. Our choice is not between “DRM on the web” and “no DRM on the web”, it’s between “allow users to watch DRMed videos” and “prevent users from watching DRMed videos”. And we think the latter is a long-term losing strategy, not just for the fight on DRM (if Firefox didn’t exist, would our chances of a DRM-free web be greater?), but for all the other things Mozilla is working for. (BTW, Mitchell’s post does not call open source “merely an approach”, it calls it “Mozilla’s fundamental approach”. That’s a pretty big misrepresentation.)
Accusing someone of having no principles because they don’t always get their way when competing in markets where they are massively outweighed is unfair. Bradley would have us slide into irrelevance rather than allow users to continue to watch DRMed movies in Firefox. He’s welcome to recommend that course of action, but we aren’t going to take it.