Mozilla: We goofed on the EULA, let's talk

Summary:The Mozilla Foundation is making changes to its EULA display for Linux distros. After a bunch of complaints on Monday, Mozilla Foundation chairperson Mitchell Baker has indicated that the project will be making some changes both in the license and reconsidering the way the EULA is displayed.

The Mozilla Foundation is making changes to its EULA display for Linux distros. After a bunch of complaints on Monday, Mozilla Foundation chairperson Mitchell Baker has indicated that the project will be making some changes both in the license and reconsidering the way the EULA is displayed.

Baker acknowledged that there were some issues (including, apparently, displaying the wrong license) and says, "We’re certainly trying to figure this out.  We’ll do this with public input; you’ll see posts about this shortly as well."

I think Baker and the Moz folks are responding well to this, despite the histrionic tone of some of the responses. The project is clearly willing to work with its downstream vendors and end users to make sure that they're hitting the right tone for their audience.

As I said yesterday, I think the bulk of complaints were a bit off. Most people seemed to be complaining about the display of the license, rather than the EULA itself. Given the barrage of EULAs you see on Windows and Mac OS X, I'm not sure if this means that Windows and Mac users are overly complacent, or that Linux users are overly touchy. Maybe both.

But, I'm not at all disappointed that the Mozilla Foundation looks to be rethinking the display of the EULA. One program does it, it's just a tiny little nuisance, and completely out of character with other apps on the Linux desktop. But it'd be an ugly trend. People complain all the time about usability on Linux -- this is at least one area where we're head and shoulders above Windows and Mac OS X: The Linux desktop is usually a EULA free zone. Unlike iTunes, I don't have to see a new license agreement every time I update Banshee on my openSUSE boxes.

But this issue does raise a basic question about how companies and projects interact with end users. Do you really need to see a EULA if all the licenses are triggered only by distribution? This is something that's come up with the openSUSE EULA that's displayed at install time as well. It's a good thing to make users aware of what FOSS licenses allow, above and beyond use, but is it necessary to present a EULA when end use isn't governed by the licenses?

Instead of asking users to agree to a EULA, we ought to be asking them to acknowledge their rights, or just present a license screen without asking for acknowledgement.

The new text for the Mozilla license is also up for review and comment. If you have thoughts on the EULA, I'm sure the Mozilla Foundation would love to hear your feedback. So would I -- was this a big deal, or tempest in a teapot?

Topics: Browser

About

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is the community manager for openSUSE, a community Linux distro sponsored by Novell. Prior to joining Novell, Brockmeier worked as a technology journalist primarily covering the Linux and FOSS beat, and wrote for a number of publications, such as Linux Magazine, Linux.com, Sys Admin, UnixReview.com, IBM developer... Full Bio

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