Firefox not free?

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I’ve been running Debian on my Apple iBook for about a week now and a recent upgrade to the unstable version of Debian made me realise that Firefox has been renamed Iceweasel. This was particularly strange to me and I couldn’t understand where this funny name came from suddenly so I decided to do some research.

It turns out that when most people think about the Firefox browser, they think of it as being open source and free but I have found that this is actually not true. While Mozilla Firefox is open source it is not entirely free and it may not even be legally compatible with Debian.

The Firefox logo is trademarked, so Debian doesn’t consider it to be Free and will not include it as part of its distribution. Mozilla claims that using the Firefox name without the official branding is a trademark violation. Furthermore, Mozilla claims that if Debian runs any patches to the version of Firefox included with Debian distros, it has to run them by Mozilla first for approval.

What all this ultimately means is that the Firefox name has been wiped from the face of Debian and is now known as IceWeasel. While using the Firefox name without the Firefox logo is not permissible, changing the name and calling Firefox something else is permissible.