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In 2006, a branding issue developed when Mike Connor, representing the Mozilla Corporation, requested that the Debian Project comply with Mozilla standards for use of the Thunderbird trademark when redistributing the Thunderbird software.[1][2] At issue were modifications not approved by the Mozilla Foundation, when the name for the software remained the same.

In 2006 the Debian Project subsequently rebranded the Mozilla Firefox program,[3] and other software released by Mozilla, so that Debian could continue to distribute the software with modifications permitted, without being bound by the use of trademark requirements that the Mozilla Foundation had required. The new names established by Debian were Iceweasel for Mozilla Firefox, Icedove for Mozilla Thunderbird, and Iceape for SeaMonkey. These changes were implemented in the subsequent version of Debian (Etch). In July 2007, Iceowl, a rebranded version of Mozilla Sunbird, was added to the unstable branch of Debian.[4]




Origins of the issue and of the Iceweasel name

Mozilla Foundation owns the trademark “Firefox”[5] and claims the right to deny the use of the name and other trademarks to unofficial builds.[6] Unless distributions use the binaries supplied by Mozilla or else have special permission, they must compile the Firefox source with an option enabled which gives Firefox the codename of the release version of Firefox on which it is based, and which doesn't use the official logo or other artwork.[6] The Debian Free Software Guidelines are used by the Debian project to determine whether a license is a free license, which in turn is used to determine whether something can be included in Debian. As the logo does not meet these requirements, it could not be used by software which was to be included in Debian. This effect of the Mozilla trademark policy led to a long debate within the Debian Project in 2004 and 2005. During this debate, the name “Iceweasel” was coined to refer to rebranded versions of Firefox. The first known use of the name in this context is by Nathanael Nerode,[7] in reply to Eric Dorland's suggestion of “Icerabbit”.[8] It was intended as a parody of “Firefox”.[9] “Iceweasel” was subsequently used as the example name for a rebranded Firefox in the Mozilla Trademark Policy,[6] and became the most commonly used name for a hypothetical rebranded version of Firefox. By January 1, 2005, rebranding was being referred to as the “Iceweasel route”.[10]

The term "ice weasel" appeared earlier in a line which Matt Groening fictionally attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche: "Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come."[11]

Debian was initially given permission to use the trademarks, and adopted the Firefox name.[12] However, because the artwork in Firefox has a proprietary copyright license which is not compatible with the Debian Free Software Guidelines, the substituted logo had to remain.[13]

Trademark agreement revocation

In February 2006, Mike Connor, representing the Mozilla Corporation, wrote to the Debian bug tracker and informed the project that Mozilla did not consider the way in which Debian was using the Firefox name to be acceptable.[1] Connor confirmed that the Mozilla Corporation was revoking the previous agreement which allowed Debian to use the Firefox name. Further messages from Mike Connor clarified Mozilla's new trademark policies: usage of the Firefox name is not allowed unless the rest of the branding is used and all of the browser's changes are approved by Mozilla Corporation.

The immediate problem caused by the new policy was Debian's inability to use the official Firefox logo due to its proprietary license failing to comply with the Debian Free Software Guidelines. Additionally, as Debian releases are frozen on a long-term basis, software in the frozen stable releases needs to be patched for any newly-discovered security issue. Under the revised guidelines, in order to use the Firefox name, approval from the Mozilla Corporation would have been required for all security patches, but the Debian project felt it could not put its security in the hands of an external corporation in that manner.[14]

The "Iceweasel" name was revived in the Debian community as a possible name to give the rebranded version of Firefox. The Iceweasel found in Debian is not GNU IceWeasel (now GNU IceCat) but a rebranded Firefox created by the Debian project. The Debian maintainer has stated that he will "get in touch with [the GNU IceCat/IceWeasel team] to see what we can do together".[15] Similarly, Debian renamed Mozilla Thunderbird and SeaMonkey, to Icedove and Iceape, respectively.


According to, Iceweasel, Icedove and Iceape were first accepted into the Debian project's unstable repository on November 20, 2006, on October 14, 2006, and on December 1, 2006, respectively. Icedove migrated to Etch and Thunderbird was removed on November 11, 2006. Iceape migrated to Etch on January 11, 2007, (the old Mozilla suite having previously been removed on October 6, 2006). Iceweasel migrated (and Firefox was removed) on January 18, 2007. Debian's first stable release to include Iceweasel, Icedove, and Iceape was Debian 4.0 (Etch), released April 8, 2007. Soon after the renaming Debian also replaced Mozilla's unbranded logos with new logos designed to fit with the new names, drawn by Ricardo Fernandez Fuentes.[16]

Subsequent products

Iceweasel on Debian squeeze
Developer(s) Debian Project
Operating system Linux, GNU and variants
Type Web browser
License MPL/GNU GPL/GNU LGPL tri-license

Debian's Iceweasel, Icedove, Iceowl, and Iceape are respectively based on Mozilla's Firefox, Thunderbird, Sunbird, and SeaMonkey. The rebranded products still use some Internet-based services from Mozilla, including the Mozilla plugin finder service, and Mozilla add-ons and their update notifications. There has also been no change to how non-free components, such as Flash, are found or used.


Icedove is an e-mail client distributed by the Debian project. It is based on Mozilla Thunderbird, but is made entirely of free software. With Icedove, the Debian project aims to provide a version of the Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail client which has not yet been kept in synchronization with upstream development of Thunderbird as originally planned. It removes the proprietary artwork and plug-in repositories used in the official release by the Mozilla Corporation, which are classified as non-free by free software advocates.[17]


Iceape is a Internet suite distributed by the Debian project. Iceape is based on SeaMonkey, but is made entirely of free software. The Debian project aims with Iceape to provide a version of the SeaMonkey Internet suite which is kept in synchronization with upstream development of SeaMonkey while removing the proprietary artwork and plug-in repositories used in the official release by the SeaMonkey Council, which are classified as non-free by free software advocates.


Iceowl is a calendar application distributed by the Debian project. It is based on Mozilla Sunbird, but is made entirely of free software.


The rebranded programs are available under Mozilla's standard MPL/GPL/LGPL tri-license. Unlike Mozilla, the default icons are under the same tri-license.

User Agent problem

Some web sites do not recognise the browsers' User-Agent strings and refuse to work properly.[18] As a workaround, Iceweasel 3.5.5 adds a "like Firefox x.x.x" string to the User-Agent.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Debian bug report on use of Mozilla Firefox trademark without permission". 
  2. ^ "mozilla thunderbird trademark restrictions / still dfsg free ?". 
  3. ^ "Re: Will IceWeasel be based on a fork or on vanilla FireFox?". 
  4. ^ Overview of iceowl source package
  5. ^ U.S. Trademark 78,344,043; see History_of_Mozilla_Firefox#Naming
  6. ^ a b c "Mozilla Trademark Policy". 
  7. ^ "Nathanael Nerode 27 Feb 2004 email to debian-legal". 
  8. ^ "Eric Dorland 27 Feb 2004 email to debian-devel". 
  9. ^ Gnuzilla Homepage
  10. ^ "Joel Aelwyn 01 Jan 2005 email to debian-legal". 
  11. ^ Groening, Matt (1986). Love Is Hell. Pantheon Books. ISBN 0394744543. 
  12. ^ "Gervase Markham 14 June 2005 email to debian-devel". 
  13. ^ "Gervase Markham 19 June 2005 email to debian-devel". 
  14. ^ [ "Debian Bug Report #354662 Message #256 (Approval of Security Backports)"]. 
  15. ^ "Facts about Debian and Mozilla Firefox". 
  16. ^ "copyright" file from Iceweasel package in Debian, version
  17. ^ "GNUzilla and IceCat". 
  18. ^
  19. ^

External links


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