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As we know, Firefox' branding (name, logo etc.) is non-free copyrighted, so some Linux distributions package (more-)fully-free versions.

However, I can't get a straight explanation on Wikipedia (here or here) or in the IceCat webpage about the two better-known ones: IceWeasel and IceCat.

  • Are these different projects?
  • Are they just different rebrandings of Firefox?
  • Why does Debian only have Iceweasel packages?
  • Did one of them merge into the other / become the other?
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See also on Unix & Linux: Are Icecat and Iceweasel different projects?. – unor Apr 18 '15 at 1:39
A few points and updated info: There are a few differences not mentioned in the answers below. 1) In addition to the branding, the "Ice" products exclude 3rd party additions that aren't FOSS. Example: Iceweasel excludes things like Pocket that are merged into Firefox. 2) There are different versions of the Ice products (at least for Iceweasel, I'm not familiar with the Icecat details). The main Iceweasel versions used to be based on Firefox ESR. The Stable version still is, but the others are now based on the latest standard Firefox. – fixer1234 Mar 12 at 0:15
BTW, the reason for the rebranding isn't copyright of the brand/logo. The Firefox source code is modified to strip out non-FOSS components and whatever other changes they make, then recompiled. So the result is not what Mozilla produced and isn't under Mozilla control or responsibility, so they don't want their logo on it.. That's the reason for the rebranding. Charles Stewart's answer indicates that for Icecat, it may just be the name/logo, but that wouldn't stop them from just making it available in their repo. – fixer1234 Mar 12 at 0:28
@fixer1234: Perhaps you should make an answer from those two comments. – einpoklum Mar 12 at 0:29
Charles Stewart covered the gist of the second comment. My first comment is more of a supplement than a complete answer. – fixer1234 Mar 12 at 0:39
up vote 6 down vote accepted

I think the most useful thing to start with is that the Mozilla Firefox branding is copyrighted by Mozilla, the branding is NOT under a licence that allows use of it without explicit permission and that the more ideologically pure distros didn't like that. All three cases mentioned on the Icecat page are simply re-logoed/branded versions of Firefox, done by different teams - from the Icecat webpage

The gNewSense BurningDog browser and the Debian IceWeasel browser are similarly derived from Firefox, also with the intent of being free software. Technically, however, these projects are maintained entirely independently of IceCat. (Previously, this GNU browser project was also named IceWeasel, but that proved confusing.)

Iceweasel is probably also packaged by Debian for use in their distro, as would be Burning Dog (which itself is part of a 'pure' FOSS Ubuntu spinoff). They're all Firefox code, and should work the same way as firefox, but are done by different groups of people for the sake of total FOSS compliance.

To answer the specific parts of this questions - yes they are different projects, they are just rebrandings of Firefox, Debian only has Iceweasel packages since they run the Iceweasel project, and as far as I can tell, Icecat changed its name from Iceweasel to avoid confusion and none of the spinoffs have merged. A great anology would be Centos and Redhat - exact same situation with Centos compiling redhat's packages after stripping out the branding.

EDIT: As of 2016 Iceweasel is no more, and the firefox branding is used by debian again - As per this raspberry pi stackexchange post by angussydney. Pop went the weasel I guess.

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I actually know that (maybe I should have mentioned it in the question). – einpoklum Mar 30 '13 at 16:45
I'm not sure there's much else to it. Added a bit of clarification to my answer, and a reference to a similar situation with redhat – Journeyman Geek Mar 30 '13 at 23:58
But, if the GNU project was also named IceWeasel, and, supposedly, had the same logo, then it was exactly the same thing - so there was no possibility for confusion. I think I'm still not quite following. – einpoklum Mar 31 '13 at 7:54
They weren't - via - indicates they were never the same project – Journeyman Geek Mar 31 '13 at 12:30

If a rebranding is an alternate distribution of software that may change

  1. Text
  2. Images
  3. Baked-in URLs (e.g., to alternate web stores)
  4. Easter eggs (usually, built-in pages)
  5. Scripts, plug-ins, etc.
  6. Configuration defaults

and nothing else (i.e., no changes to the "real" codebase), then

  • I believe that Icecat is just a rebranding: the point of the distribution is just to remove the contested Mozilla branding and to link the browser to a GNU-acceptable web store, but as far as I know, GNU uses the Firefox codebase faithfully;
  • However, Iceweasel is not just a rebranding: while the project is not really a fork, the point is to allow Debian to run their own security policy, which does involve applying their patches to the Firefox codebase and deciding whether to accept Mozilla patches. In fact it was Debian's security policy that led Mozilla to enforce its trademark and so create the need for an unbranded, DFSG-compliant Iceweasel. In the medium term, the Debian codebase tracks the Mozilla codebase, but with a substantial lag. Debian have not applied the auto-update code of Firefox to Mozilla, and I think it is not clear how they would go about that.
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