Friday, April 25, 2008

It's The Same, But...

I just got a new computer at work (hooray!). Along with this shiny new computer came a shiny new operating system. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, instead of running Debian Sarge I'm now running Debian Etch.* All is good, except one thing: Firefox is gone.

This is a big deal. We have a lot of customers who work in datacenters, a fair number on Linux boxes, and supporting Firefox on Linux is one of our requirements. So where's my Firefox?

Turns out... my Firefox has become Iceweasel (it's opposite day! get it?). A quick search turns up some of the history here, and it ain't pretty. Basically, Firefox is not "free" (as in software) enough for the Debian folks, and the two groups can't reconcile, so Debian took the free enough parts of Firefox, rebranded the thing, and put it in their distribution.**

Now, I'm not going to step on anyone's zealotry, but I really need my core Firefox back.

Why isn't Iceweasel good enough?
  • It's already not the same as Firefox. There are some "additional security patches" in Iceweasel.
  • It's several versions behind Firefox, at least as of this writing. Looks like for Firefox and for Iceweasel.
  • It's a fork. While the browsers may be nearly identical now, there is no guarantee that they will remain so. I'd hate to look up in six months and realize that I wasn't testing what my users were going to see.
So how to get real Firefox?
This one took a bit of digging. I basically wound up following the Debian User Forums post, with a few tweaks. So, here's what I did differently:
  • Keep Iceweasel. The post assumes that Iceweasel is uninstalled. Instead of removing it, I just removed the /usr/bin/firefox -> ../lib/iceweasel symlink. Then I did ln -s /usr/bin/iceweasel /usr/lib/iceweasel to make a symlink for the new browser. Now when I want to run Iceweasel, I just have to type "iceweasel" in my terminal.
  • Not Run As Root. I find it easier to just sudo, but this one is totally personal preference.
  • Not Install libstdc++5. I already happened to have this on my clean Etch install, so I skipped this step.
  • Change the Iceweasel menu item. After I finished the steps, I just changed the iceweasel menu item to open firefox instead.
Everything else, I did by the book.

Moral of the Story
There are two morals to this story. First, you can run standard Firefox on Debian Etch. Second, and more important, if something is the same except for a few changes, it is absolutely not the same. Don't be different just for the sake of convenience; remember your users and use their tools.

* On this machine, anyway. I've written before about the myriad operating systems I encounter in a given day.

** A sidways rant in two parts:
Part 1: Iceweasel isn't an inherently dorky name, but in context it becomes truly stupid. I like the logo, though. I'm more of a blue person than a red person in general, and the weasel is cute.
Part 2: This in my opinion is part of what makes people afraid of and confused by open source software. Debating degrees of freedom is incredibly opaque to your average user. Now some poor sucker experimenting with open source has to google past flame wars and "the truth about XX" "no no the REAL truth about XX" to get any real information. I know people get all up in arms, but this is really just petty and makes us all look dumb.

No comments:

Post a Comment