Firefox 3.0 – what’s all this ‘lock-in branding’ stuff about?

The upcoming version of Firefox 3.0 codenamed Gran Paradiso talks about a curious thing in the alpha release notes: “ability to lock-in branding”. Is Firefox going to become some commercial billboard on your PC a la IE4?

Dan Warne (APC): I was going to ask you something else about plug-ins. We had a look at the Gran Paradiso alpha release notes and one of the things we noticed in there support for persistent branding of Firefo I assumed it was so for example Dell could pre‑install Firefox on their PC and have a little Dell logo in Firefox or something? I don’t know what it meant exactly but I’m hoping it’s not going to be like the IE4 days where Microsoft made it possible to brand e-v-e-r-y element of IE4 and so you had these disgusting browser windows with giant writing and logos all over them.

Mitchell Baker: [Laughs] No no I can’t imagine we’d be doing anything like that…

Mitchell Baker: Speaking of branding the code names as you may know are park names and so Firefox 3.0 is codenamed Gran Paradiso and there’s a Gran Paradiso Park. Recently when we were looking at the code names and for some reason we went to the site of the Gran Paradiso Park there at the bottom of the site was a ‘get Firefox button’ I went “yes! that’s the right code name!”

Dan Warne (APC): Ha – that’s a funny coincidence isn’t it. Let’s look it up the Gran Paradiso alpha notes on the web and see what they say. [Turns to Edelman public relations person] Can I use your laptop for a sec?

PR guy: Sure. [To Mitchell Baker] You have to excuse this laptop … it doesn’t actually use Firefox.

Mitchell Baker: Now is when I storm out of here [laughs].

PR guy: I was going to install it myself but I don’t have access rights.

Mitchell Baker: To that machine?

PR guy: Yes unfortunately.

Mitchell Baker: What kind of machine is it? Where’s your managing director? He came in earlier today … now I’ll complain [laughs].

Dan Warne (APC): Ok so it says here about Gran Paradiso: “ability to lock in branding.”

Mitchell Baker: Right… well I think the key thing is to figure out what “branding” means in this circumstance. Sometimes branding is shorthand for a set of things.

For example a telco T‑Online has distributed a version of Firefox in Germany in which the start page is T‑Online and it’s co‑branded. The idea was that it would be simple for T-Online to distribute the browser with their start page.

But it turns out that when you have to do updates it is very very complex and making sure that when you do the update that the start page remains T-Online rather than the start page for our German default which is I think Google is really tricky.

I think “branding” encapsulates all those sorts of things.

Dan Warne (APC): Like how mobile phone “branding” encapsulates everything on the phone for a carrier?

Mitchell Baker: Right for things like that. So it’s not what you are worried about.

Read more of the interview with Mitchell Baker: