The end of innocence for Mozilla?

Dave Coursey laments the End of Innocence for Mozilla with the founding of a taxable subsidiary.

The danger of the Mozilla Foundation forming a for-profit business, Mozilla Corp., is that the result may be as nasty and political as your average nonprofit and as money-grubbing as your typical software company. Nothing wrong with that, except that it’s a wide departure from the egalitarian notion of “free” software that has carried Mozilla this far. And with that departure, I am feeling a touch of loss.

Richard Stallman, the prophet of free software idealism, says that free software is intended to be “free as in speech, not free as in beer”. Open source software never was intended to be free of commerce. You can make money with open source software. IBM makes oodles of money with Linux and Apache. MySQL makes money with its database. You just can’t sell the source code.
I think Mozilla lost its innocence a long time ago, and in a different way. Much of open source software is by geeks, for geeks. Open source developers have focused on creating tools for developers, and avoided the burden of developing for people who aren’t programmers. An open source developer is “scratching his own itch”, not developing code to please other people.
For whatever reason, Mozilla isn’t like this. Mozilla is designed to be usable and attractive for ordinary people, and extensible for geeks. The Mozilla team designs with empathy for users. They have already lost the innocence of solipsism — they are serving others than themselves.

I can’t help feeling that the foundation is crossing a line from which it can never retreat, taking with it a bit of the romance of software by the people, for the people.

Coursey writes these sentimental lines for a salary earned from a magazine publisher that makes money from advertising.
Mozilla is maintaining its license terms. That means that people will continue to be able to look at the code, modify the code, and fork the project to create their own products, following the terms of the license. That’s the freedom that counts — not freedom from being able to make a living.
Thanks, Joi for some clarification about the business structure.

One thought on “The end of innocence for Mozilla?”

  1. I know nothing about the big issues involved. On a more trivial level, I think this is an excellent development, precisely because it prompts people like Coursey to say /but I thought it was *free*…/ – and hopefully prompts the rest of us to think a bit more about what free-as-in-free-speech actually means. The double meaning of ‘free’ is an English-language albatross. I once saw an Italian commentator explaining the “f. as in f.s. not as in f.b.” line: he had to take quite a long run-up at it, so as to explain why anyone would think that ‘libero’ meant the same as ‘gratuito’ in the first place.

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