Free Binaries of Firefox

Six weeks ago, RMS emailed the Foundation to politely point out that the builds of Firefox we ship are not Free-as-in-speech. He’s quite correct in this assertion. We ship Talkback, a non-free crash-reporting tool, and there are also some provisions in the Firefox EULA which he suggested are non-Free as well, such as the restriction on removing the trademarks, and the requirement to follow US export regulations.

(I should point out at this juncture that the Firefox source code, as pulled and built from CVS, is Free, although it may be subject to restrictions until you remove any Mozilla Foundation trademarks. I’m looking for help to make it easier for people to avoid being subject to even those restrictions.)

We discussed the issues by email for a while, but other priorities intervened and not much progress was made. So, I went up to RMS after his talk at FOSDEM to apologise for the delay. He said (perhaps understandably) that he was tired of waiting, and planned to use FOSDEM to recruit some developers to make free binary builds, and release them under a different name.

So, on the Sunday during the Q&A in the Mozilla developer room, RMS asked someone to read out a short statement to that effect, asking people to email him if they were interested in helping make such builds. Having heard it, I responded by explaining the situation to the room, as outlined in this blog post.

The Foundation does hope to make Free binary builds available, with no Talkback, and a different EULA. Such builds would not be promoted by us, but anyone could point at their FTP directory and say “those builds are Free”. However our build engineer (Chase Phillips) is utterly exhausted after all the work necessary to get 1.0.1 off the ground, and is taking some time off. When he returns and things calm down, we hope to find time to make this happen.

20 thoughts on “Free Binaries of Firefox

  1. “(I should point out at this juncture that the Firefox source code, as pulled and built from CVS, is Free, although it may be subject to restrictions until you remove any Mozilla Foundation trademarks. I’m looking for help to make it easier for people to avoid being subject to even those restrictions.)”

    If you build regular CVS it is unbranded (no firefox logos) and eula free (only the installer shows it I believe).

  2. Gerv,
    First let me point out that I’m not an active mozilla hacker, although I follow its development through these blogs and newsgroups carefully, as well as on bugzilla.

    I respect RMS’s position, but I have to ask – how much demand is there for a 100% Free-as-in-speech browser? Personally, free-as-in-beer is good enough for me, and since most of the code is free-as-in-speech, isn’t that good enough?

    I’m just thinking from a consumer demand and worker manpower perspective. Is there a big demand for this, and if so, is it worth devoting manpower to? Building from CVS has to be as close to truly free-as-in-speech as you could reasonably get from a still-maturing project.

    Just want to hear your thoughts.

  3. Six weeks ago he was polite. At FOSDEM, he was tired of waiting.

    I find this annoying. The Mozilla Foundation works very hard to support all their various products, on a fairly low budget. I have to say, I think RMS is asking for too much, too soon.

  4. I think a Firefox build without Talkback is a good idea. People around here never use this, and to tem it is even annoying. So why not ship out a lighter build?

  5. Wow, you guys at the MoFo sure have to put up with a lot. I’ve followed the Mozilla project for several years, and everything I’ve seen by you guys suggest that you always do your best to satisfy as many legitimate concerns as possible. As if defending against MS wasn’t enough, you’re called a MS for simply how you name your browser, how you run your own organization, or not having enough resources to support both the Suite and the stand-alone apps (I’m sure I’m leaving out several other past controveries). And now the GNU crowd is upset at you because you weren’t able to meet their quasi-religious demands as soon as they wanted–as if coders haven’t had to wait longer than 6 weeks to get their patches reviewed… These pointless controversies are just frustrating, especially when we should be focusing on preparing for Longhorn…

  6. Mozilla’s code is free-as-in-speech. If someone wants to deliver an even more free-as-in-speech browser based on it, he/she has the right to do so. Nothing wrong with that.

    Why should the Mozilla Foundation spend time to even go through this last bit of work ? Is it really needed ?

    An opensource alternative for the TalkBack-functionality would be convenient. That could improve the quality of opensource software in general.

    If the opensource community could create a component that could easily be integrated by developers for Talkback-functionality that would be cool.
    However, at any time a user should get the option to switch this on or off (because opensource software should not phone-home by default).

  7. I welcome Free builds. Thank’s for every bit of effort you put into it.

    I never would have reported, triaged and reproduced so many bug reports when mozilla and now firefox wouldn’t be free as in freedom.

    Unfortunately nowadays trademark laws make it difficult to protect a mark and at the same time giving people the freedom to do with it whatever you want. (Linux (TM) on the other hand doesn’t seem to have too much troubles with its trademark protection without any “EULA” and mandatory removal of trademarked bits). Probably someone experienced in IP laws could suggest a change to the law which would make it easier to have Free software trademarked. Probably something where you’re allowed to use trademarked artwork of Free software whenever you keep it free or the like. Don’t know whether a license like the GPL could be adapted to trademark law as well.

  8. “Free-as-in-this”… “Free-as-in-that”… YAWN! How about “free-as-in-psychotic”?!?

    RMS really has a knack of annoying the living lights out of people with his fundamentalist poppycock. I often wonder how someone as intelligent as him became as pigheaded as, er, him…

    Which is all the more irritating because Bernd has a good point there! (Bernd : you = evil)

  9. RMS is actually being polite by pointing out the non-free aspects of the app to the developers. Since he is free to make his own build, he is also being polite by waiting and not forking.

  10. I also agree with Rodrigo.

    Further; although you might not like RMS’ zealotry or the importance he places on Free (as in speach) software (particularily if you look at it from the more pragmatic angle of Open Source (but not necessarily Free) Software) you still have to admire the man – RMS practices what he preaches.

    If a Free build is made then I will switch and replace standard Firefox with the Free Build on my own machine. As well as my parent’s, sibling’s, grandparent’s, extended family’s, random friend’s and neighbour’s etc etc – not because of the trademark (that doesn’t bother me) but because of the Talkback program & the EULA. Call me a zealot or idealist as much as you want but given two equivalent alternatives i’ll always pick the more Free version.

  11. Rodrigo :
    Polite?!? So, all of a sudden NOT forking one FOSS project makes someone polite these days? Well, in that case I’m super-polite, I haven’t forked thousands of FOSS projects! :p

    You know what would have been really neat? If RMS (or anyone from his cohorts) actually DID fork Firefox, then reimplemented functionality analogous to that of Talkback in a product under a GPL/LGPL/whatever-totally-free license. Then MoFo could simply take this GTalkBack and bundle it with forthcoming builds of Firefox and other products. THAT would be the spirit of free software that way it was back in the good old days : if you didn’t like what was already available – you just sat down, implemented it yourself and then made it available to others. In my book, ideological terrorism (“Make it Free(TM) _NOW_ OR ELSE…”) is not exactly the best way to make friends.

  12. What I don’t understand is how this became a top priority item that would usurp other more pressing items from Chase and others’ todo lists.

    IMO this is clearly a case of the popularity of Firefox being used as a vehicle to further certain folks’ agendas. That’s sad.

  13. Ben: I don’t think anyone’s said it’s a “top priority item”; we just want to work out what work needs doing, and who has time to do it, and when – as part of the normal work scheduling process.

    It’s not just RMS who thinks the principles of Free software are important; many community members do too.

  14. I would think that what really needs to be done is create a script that retreives the current CVS, minus talkback, and compiles the source. Please tell me that they use some sort of script to build the current Firefox and that it is not so complex that they can’t script it and forget it.

    Am I being too obtuse?

    In fact, the above link has build instructions that could easily be slapped together into a shell or Perl script after adding some conditional statements. If tempx exists create directory tempx+1 or tempx(date) then access cvs, download into new directory, make, etc., upload to free repository. Damn, that’s hard. For an experienced script programmer I would think that you’d be done in ten minutes. Have cron run the build daily after new code is normally uploaded and clean out the repository of older builds leaving the most recent stable.

    Don’t make a mountain out of a mole-hill.

  16. Geez… Some people and their lack of respect for RMS really sucks.

    He has mentioned a relevant problem, that needs to be solved in one way or the other. Building my Firefox from source, obviously havent shown me any of these problems. So i think it is good, to have people mentioning theese issues, for them to hopefully get solved as soon as it is possible.