Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Ubuntu faces an EULA problem

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Ubuntu lovers are all worked up - and this time it's due to the appearance of an end user licence agreement in the next version of their beloved distribution which is scheduled to be released in October.

This version of Ubuntu is to be called Intrepid Ibex. (Don't ask me why. I guess someone, maybe Mark Shuttleworth himself, wakes up at 3am and has a flash of inspiration. One could, of course, question why they didn't think of adventurous ant or egoistic elephant. Or even amorous armadillo/anteater. Maybe the Ubuntu people will keep those names in mind for April 2009.)

But at the moment, what's bothering the Ubuntu crowd is the appearance of an EULA for Firefox. Yes, free software with an end user licence agreement, that onerous click-through that is a hallmark of proprietary software.

In some ways, this is a reminder that open source is throwing some of its heritage away as the dollar signs appear in its eyes. Some years back, the Mozilla Foundation began to insist that only people who used its own vanilla version of Firefox could use the same logo; anyone who made changes to the code could not use the logo.

The Debian project encountered this problem in 2006 and was asked to stop using the name Firefox unless they used the same logo, something they could not do as the logo is not released under a copyright licence that is compatible with the free software guidelines that Debian follows. The Mozilla folk also wanted to vet every patch that the Debian developers applied to the Firefox code.

The solution? The Debian package of Firefox was renamed as IceWeasel and has been known as such ever since. When the Mozilla Foundation made a fuss about the name of the Thunderbird mail program, Debian promptly released it as IceDove.

Now it looks like the Mozilla people want to impose the same terms on Ubuntu - and this time an EULA has been added to the conditions. The Mozilla Foundation's attitude sets a precedent for open source software, one that is not particularly welcome.

Trademarks are all very fine. Red Hat is one GNU/Linux company that makes money through its trademarks - but it has no problem if someone else strips out the trademarks and then gives away its Linux distribution free.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.