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Mozilla and GNU/Linux

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ariadacapo's picture
Joined: 2006-07-13

This is a something I've been wanting to share but some various things have happened and so it only comes up now.

JT Batson from the Mozilla Corporation wrote a blog entry called Seeding Mozilla around the world last month, where he discussed how Mozilla could have a more efficient marketing to spread Firefox.

I responded by email and I wanted to share this with you. This is almost a subject for
(I adapted the terminology of my mail to my audience ;-))

Olivier wrote:

[...]I wish to talk to you about the aspect of Linux.
I know that so far the Linux community has been quite a special case for Mozilla. The tech-savvy Linux users are picky and tend to build their own stuff; there are plenty of browsers, and there has even been disputes regarding the Firefox trademark because developers take some pieces apart. So strategically, for Mozilla, the Linux market has never been interesting.

But things are changing. Now more and more everyday users are switching to Linux. There are extremely friendly distributions out there, such as Ubuntu; they include Firefox by default, and their users will never use anything else to surf the web. More than that: Linux is now so friendly that people are switching /that hadn't installed Firefox on Windows before/ [I can tell, I often switch people myself]. And unlike on Windows they won't have to fight with the presence of another browser to keep surfing with Ff. So, a new Linux user is increasingly a new Firefox user.

The problem is that the Linux world is extremely divided and pretty poor at communicating. Take for example: we're miles away from the quality of Mozilla marketing here. But there are also high quality evangelizing communities around. Allow me to present the one I'm part of: . We're a non-profit called GNU/Linux Matters and we provide clear, well-presented information about Linux in five languages. We have a small team of around 15, two of whom (including myself) are looking for funds to work full-time on the project.

I am an avid observer of the Mozilla corporation/foundation doublet, and very interested in your strategic moves. I suggest, that now that tabbed browsing is no longer your flagship, you outlook on the Linux world: several communities are doing a great job there. Each has its own objectives (for example, mine is focused on free software, others on one
specific distribution), but for most of them, this includes working for you.

To which he responded:

JT Batson wrote:

[...] I appreciate your thoughts on how to get the linux community more involved in spreading Firefox. I would love to get more ideas from you on how the linux communities around the world (particularly in the countries we are focused on) can help us spread Firefox. [...]

And therefore my answer:

Olivier wrote:

[...] I have been thinking about your question: "How the linux communities around the world can help you spread Firefox". To me, the answer is: They already help you a large amount. You can make sure they do so properly and more efficiently.

The main idea to consider here is that there are very important common elements between Mozilla and the Linux communities.
It's unlikely that any feature can make Firefox stand out from IE very distinctly now. Similarly, a feature comparison doesn't always draw the balance towards Linux (we still have major shortages, ex WiFi hardware drivers, DVD support, and to some extent gaming.)

Firefox's main advantage is: "brand", non-fully-rational factors. There's something about the community around the program, its friendliness, a sense of belonging to a nice part of the web, that attracts users.
That same sense of "community" now drives people to Linux.

Because Linux advocates don't just work with a feature list, but also promote a set of values, this "community" concept, they have lots in common with Mozilla advocates.

In practice, I have five suggestions for Mozilla.

  1. Have a good look at high-end Linux distributions, in particular Ubuntu (friendly) and Fedora (more advanced). Observe what drives users towards them, how their brand is managed and perceived by Windows and Linux users.
    I believe it would be positive "selling" point to advertise that Firefox is the browser of choice for such distributions. It not only would associate Firefox with well-perceived "brands", but also show these people that you care about them. A great amount of the workforce there is voluntary; the more support they have, the better they do.
    In addition, talking more about the multi-platform portability of Ff (just as could be another advantage.
  2. Solve your name issues with the Firefox brand in fully-free Linux distributions. It's a pity that highly influential distributions such as Debian and gNewSense call your product IceWeasel or BurningDog, simply because your policies regarding the inclusion of proprietary plugins aren't compatible with theirs.
  3. Put more weight on the idea that Firefox is free / open-source (ex. on the landing page).
    - Insist on "open-source" and you carry through the idea of an "organic" or "healthy" way of making software. It's something that people will consider the next time they are confronted to the "stick to IE vs. install Ff" dilemma.
    - You can go even further and Insist on "free software" . It requires more effort on your part ("new" concept for many people, ambiguous word), but once users have adopted the idea of freedom, they will never go back to IE.
  4. Support proper Linux advocacy. It's a shameless plug on the non-profit I belong to here, but I don't know any advocacy group that "gets it" as well as GNU/Linux Matters. We have built the clearest and cleanest site about Linux around ( and are organised enough to manage translations in four languages, with more coming down the line. We'd love to see support of any kind from Mozilla (simple acknowledgment, help to cover web-related expenses, linking, or even paying some of us for a few hours a week). It's important that Linux advocacy finally lets go of the geek-speak, confused layout, and poor branding. I believe it's now also relevant to Mozilla.
  5. Share ideas with Linux companies about pre-installing software on machines. There are many points in common between getting Ubuntu on Dell PCs, and Firefox pre-installed on Windows PCs. It's probably something you're doing already, but it'd be nice if some of your high executives had a chat with the people at Canonical and Red Hat, about leveraging Microsoft's influence on OEMs.

If anything, I wish Mozilla would consider this idea carefully: that more and more, a new Linux user is a new Firefox user -even if the advanced Linux guys (often the loudest, though an ever smaller percentage) will keep arguing about the best browser forever.

And he responded that he was interesting in having a chat at some point and forwarded this to a few other people. While I don't expect much to come out of it, it's been a worthwhile piece of thinking and at least 4 people in Mozilla now know about us =)

If you have other propositions then we can bring them up to him too.

libervisco's picture
Joined: 2006-05-04
Great moves Olivier! I like

Great moves Olivier! I like your ideas very much. Firefox really is, while being a poster boy/girl for FOSS, rather disconnected from the GNU/Linux community, despite it being its heavy user and promoter. So there is clearly a need to make a connection between the two and an increased popularity of both can really help both move forward. Really excellent thinking!

That he forwarded it to others at Mozilla is a sign that he really likes those ideas and is interested in possibly going with it somewhere so I would say that a bit of optimism may be in order. I really hope something comes out of it, at least that some of the points you suggested to him get manifested through some of the future Mozilla's activities.

Joined: 2006-03-28
Sounds really interesting,

Sounds really interesting, and also quite promising.
As libervisco said, when he's already forwarded it to a couple of other people he really seems to like your ideas.

And I agree that both sides could benefit from such cooperation. Good luck.

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