Some heat dissipates from Firebird, Mozilla naming war

The Firebird RDBMS project has successfully managed to get the Mozilla Organisation to formally drop its use of the 'Firebird' name to describe its upcoming browser, but the heated debate created by the name change continues to smoulder.

The Mozilla.org in April changed the name of both its browser project, codenamed Phoenix, and mail client, codenamed Minotaur to Firebird and Thunderbird respectively. However, the change incurred the wrath of the Firebird RDBMS project which has been using the Firebird name since July of 2000. A passionate discussion then followed on the mozillazine site, run by Asa Dotzler, Firebird's mailing lists and on the news site Slashdot.

With the argument heated, Mozilla.org announced a re-branding document at the end of April. The document said that "Firebird" is only a codename. In the document the Mozilla.org announced it would take on a slightly more prosaic approach to naming. "If possible", the "Mozilla Browser" and "Mozilla Mail" are the names developers are encouraged to use to describe the Firebird and Thunderbird projects after the 1.4 release, the document stated. However, before or during the 1.4 release cycle, it recommends developers use the project name with Mozilla pre-pended. For example, "Mozilla Thunderbird" or "Mozilla Firebird" instead of using Mozilla alone or Firebird/Thunderbird alone.

Mozilla.org spokesperson Christopher Blizzard said the Mozilla.org has been talking about its long-term brand strategy since late last year, a long time before they were even thinking about using Phoenix as its "mainline" project base. "This is just business as usual," he said.

It is unclear whether Firebird RDBMS disquiet over the whole naming situation played a part in the re-branding document. When Helen Borrie, a Firebird project admin was asked, she responded: "Who can tell?"

"Preceding it [the re-branding] was a high level of clamour, in which various members of Firebird admin (myself included) tried hard to present the case, via private e-mail to Mozilla admins, Web site announcements and postings to the Mozilla talkback forum. Any official response from Mozilla.org has been precisely nil."

According to Borrie, throughout, Firebird admins made it clear that they wanted dialogue with the Mozilla admins about their "rebranding of their browser trespassing on our established use of the Firebird name".

During this time, she said, the haranguing of both Firebird followers and Mozilla people "who objected to the commandeering of the name of another open source project by a couple of minor members of the Mozilla leadership was vehement and ugly".

But at no stage has there been formal dialogue. "They never contacted us when they first considered the question of using our name back in December, nor when they decided to go ahead and announce it as a fait accompli on March 14. They didn't respond to any of our e-mails and they have not so much as commented on repeated invitations to discuss a solution," Borrie said.

Mediation sought

In the meantime a third party was involved. Thanks to Ann Harrison, a Firebird admin who is also a principal of IBPhoenix, a story was being maintained on that company's Web site on the progress of the attempts to engage mozilla.org.

It was clear to the Firebird people that some folks in the Mozilla.org did not appreciate why Firebird RDBMS regarded the name as such a big problem.

"The attitude of the Mozilla people was to simply ignore the problem. Some of their people (but not Mozilla the organisation) just stuck to the position that they had been told it was legal [the use of the Firebird name] so there was no reason to change anything. In fact, it was not legal, but - legal or not - there was the more important issue (to us) that the association of big, heavy Mozilla with the Firebird name was harmful to the branding that we had established in nearly three years of consistent, unchallenged use," Borrie said.

In the days before the Mozilla branding document showed up, one of the high-ups in the Debian project, Jonathan Walther, contacted Harrison and offered to try to mediate between the two project admin groups. He had a point of view on the issue, which he expressed in an open letter sent to mozillazine.org and Ann Harrison.

It is believed the outcome of Walther's overture is that Asa Dotzler, admin for Mozilla.org required an apology for the "mailbombing" that came his way. He duly got that from Harrison through a message she posted on the IBPhoenix Web site. She also apologised on the Web site to those Mozilla leaders who thought they had been the object of a "mailbombing".

Harrison said this of Dotzler: "No one likes being criticised, and he got a pretty heavy dose. That was not our intention. We're a pretty small staid project, as open source projects go. We wanted to demonstrate that even if we don't have the profile of a Mozilla, we're not entirely negligible. For a day or so, that demonstration got a bit out of hand and Asa reacted pretty strongly."

Coinciding with Harrison's apology was a letter sent to Mozilla admins. In the letter Firebird spelt out the legal position on Mozilla's use of the Firebird name. The group also indicated that it didn't want to be forced to take legal action. "What we wanted was to get around the table with them. It is what we are still waiting for," Borrie said.

Small steps

In the meantime, Firebird is encouraged that Mozilla.org and some of their associated groups are making the effort to remove uses of "Firebird" and their claims to own the trademark from some Web sites.

"They are addressing the legal technicality that their use of our brand is illegal under international trademark treaties, so it's a good start," Borrie said.

"However, as we have told them repeatedly in correspondence [which has gone unanswered], the issue of diluting and confusing our brand recognition by associating it with Mozilla and their browser remains. They still have not relinquished the names of the QA forums for the browser. Their published Minutes from April 28 (two full days after the branding policy was announced) (http://www.mozillazine.org/articles/article3135.html) indicate that they are sticking with referring to their product as "Firebird" not "Mozilla browser", despite the branding policy.

According to Blizzard, the naming issue is now closed. He said the project names like Firebird and Thunderbird are transitory. "The Mozilla Mail and Mozilla Browser names will be permanent," he said.

Harrison says she is more pleased with the situation today compared to a fortnight ago. "Happier, certainly, than when I was being assailed as a spammer and starter of flame wars. Less happy than I will be when they switch to "Mozilla browser" so both organisations can leave this conflict behind and get on with our real business -- making excellent products that demonstrate the viability of open source as an alternative to the commercial software oligarchy."

Names aside, Firebird will be holding its first-ever European conference, starting in Germany next Monday. The conference will see Firebird admins, senior developers, FirebirdSQL Foundation and IBPhoenix members from around the world descend on the town of Fulda for the two-day event. More info can be found at http://www.firebird-conference.com/

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