During the Journées du Logiciel Libre 2006 (an excellent event, thanks to the organizers), I had long chats with people from Mozilla Europe (in a more constructive way than what others did). This is mostly second-hand information, since the well-informed guys from Mozilla Europe I talked with got their info from other Mozilla developers, so it might be slightly inaccurate, but still help to understand the issue. More details welcomed in comments.
The Mozilla Foundation goal is to prevent the web from becoming a proprietary web, by ensuring that Firefox, their product, has a big-enough market-share. I find it a bit disturbing to hear free software people speak about product and market-share, but well, OK. Of course, it’s quite difficult to achieve >20% market-share only with GNU/Linux users. :-)
They put a very high emphasis on the User experience. They want Firefox to look exactly the same on all platforms, even if some features (automatic plugin installation, automatic upgrades) do not fit well on a GNU/Linux system (such features don’t work with the Debian build).
They want to enforce their trademark to prevent attempts to ruin their reputation to succeed. After a question asked by Dave Neary (GNOME) to Tristan Nitot (president of Mozilla Europe), Tristan gave the example of this hacker who said he found critical security bugs in Firefox before admitting it was a joke. He also gave the example of Microsoft indirectly founding SCO. Dave Neary remarked that some people could probably be trusted (like distro maintainers). But, if I remember correctly, Tristan said that it was difficult to allow some people to use the trademark without allowing everybody to do so. Also, allowing Debian to use the trademark without allowing derivatives to do so is not possible (DFSG#8).
Iceweasel is considered a good thing inside Mozilla Europe (“It’s what we have asked them to do for a long time!“). However, some people are bitter about the fact that Debian seems to have chosen to use a gnu.org-hosted fork instead of just renaming the package to iceweasel.
During Tristan Nitot’s conference, I asked a question about length of security support (only 18 months for the 1.0 branch). The answer was that distros were supposed to upgrade to newer Firefox releases even on their stable releases (!) or to come and help with security support for stable releases. Also, the fact that Debian chooses to package Firefox following the FHS is considered a source of problems. Somebody claimed that Debian was the only distribution to package Firefox this way (seems strange, but I did not checked this claim). I’m not sure how this fits with other Mozilla-based browsers such as epiphany.
On a more technical side, they also claimed that Debian wasn’t properly collaborating with Mozilla, sending unusable 100000-lines patches for validation just before releases (haven’t checked this claim). It’s interesting to note that the same problem exists on the other side, with Mozilla releasing “security and stability” releases instead of just providing patches for the security bugs.
My personal conclusion is that Iceweasel is really a good thing, and is quite unavoidable, even if it seems that the Debian/Mozilla collaboration could maybe have been better. Let’s advertise the use of Iceweasel, Epiphany, and other Web browsers! :-)
Note : comments open for people willing to fix inaccuracies or provide references, not for a stupid childish flame-war like the one in the comment of this post. Please write your own blog entry and use a trackback if you want to provide a detailed answer!