What makes Firefox open-source?

I’ve had this argument many times with Justin… defining what exactly makes something open-source.

I’ve had this argument many times with Justin… defining what exactly makes something open-source.

He is confident in telling me that Firefox is not open-source, and (as I understand it) he believes this because the Mozilla Organization, which controls the source code for Firefox, does not easily allow people to contribute code. They keep a tight grip on who was their bits put into Firefox. And while it is true that there are pieces in Firefox that you cannot use elsewhere (branding elements, graphics, etc.) I still believe that Firefox is open-source due to the fact that it uses the Mozilla Public License which is considered an open-source license by the Open Source Initiative.

I asked the question on Pownce recently, Is the Firefox web browser open-source?

And I think it’s a question that most people who have a basic understanding of the term “open-source” would answer “yes” to, but… Is that the case?

I thought maybe searching for “firefox is not open source” would unveil some great conspiracy I was not aware of, but no such luck.

Personally, I don’t think allowing people to contribute code is a requirement of open-source. It may be an important component of community and “open-ness” but accepting someone else’s code into your project does not seem to be a requirement. Providing the source code, and allowing people to modify and use that source code does seem to be a requirement, and though I’ve always downloaded binaries, I just downloaded the source code to Firefox.

So what is the scoop here? Is Firefox open-source?

2 replies on “What makes Firefox open-source?”

I think for a project to be open source it is not a requirement to accept anyone’s contribution. If that’s the case, just fork and live with it. But it’s not an ideal situation and in many ways it even defeats the purpose of going open source.

Firefox is open source license-wise, but also in the way it works and people is allowed to contribute. If you give a look at Mozilla’s Bugzilla, you’ll see many people outside of Mozilla Corporation is actively contributing. Everyone is allowed. But it is a meritocracy and developers have to travel a not very easy path to make his code land to the trunk, but it’s certainly doable.

When there is a controlling body for a project, it does not own the source code. Like you said, they have controlling power over the mark and feel, but under the hood is fully accessible, modifiable, and re-distributable (you might not get it in a RC, but you still can try). The latter attributes make it by definition open source. SugarCRM, Zimbra, and Canonical are example of businesses that have at their heart profit motives in mind, but realize the value of keeping the source free and make their money on expertise of the product and add-on services. I would much rather use and pay for support for Sugar over salesforce any day.

To do my best FSJ regarding IceWeasel, “Those freetards didn’t think that Firefox was drum circle approved. So they compiled their own version “liberated” of the burden of trademark, brand loyalty, market recognition, and intangible good feeling built over years of use. Great message control libretards. I am sending Katie over ASAP.”

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