What's In a Name?

April 25, 2003

Backstory: Quite a while ago, a few programmers on the Mozilla project decided to make a standalone browser with a simpler, more flexible UI. It was called mozilla/browser after the directory it lived in on the CVS server. The project petered out after a while, then was restarted by a couple new programmers. This "reborn" project was named Phoenix.

Except the BIOS company Phoenix is making a Web browser that you can run directly without starting an OS. Since they were already using the name Phoenix, they had rights to it and Mozilla's Phoenix had to rename. After a few months of legal stuff, they settled on Firebird. (Yes, I know the URL still says "phoenix"; I'm guessing that'll change eventually. Mozilla.org is notoriously slow at updating their site.)

Which brings us to the present day (well, a couple days ago, anyway). There's already an open-source project called Firebird. Granted it's a database, and Mozilla Firebird's a Web browser, but the Firebird DB people had a shit-fit.

I kinda understand; recycling the name, albeit a common one, is bad form even though it's apparently legal -- open source projects have enough problems without smacking each other around. The problem's really a small one, though, since Firebird is more or less a code name. The browser will be called Mozilla Firebird. Whether that gets shortened to just "Firebird" in popular usage is neither here nor there.

I doubt there's likely to be confusion, either -- people who can't tell a Web browser from a database have no business using a database. And searching on Google (which the Firebird DB people say will confuse users) is basically a red herring. People -- Americans, anyway -- know that Firebird is a common name for things, since it's been a car for a few decades, and will search for "firebird browser" or "firebird database" to avoid getting garbage returns.

I dunno; this whole thing just seems like a tempest in a teapot to me, along with some PR-seeking by the Firebird DB people -- had anyone heard of them beforehand? -- at the expense of a better-known project like Mozilla. What's my opinion? All of 'em can get bent: Mozilla for stooping to get a name 'cause it sounded cool, and the DB crew for their spam crusade. Live and let live, people.

April 24, 2003April 28, 2003