Trying to keep this as short as possible... In a VM, to test a problem of someone else, I installed a fresh Linux Mint 17.3 and opened Firefox. The search bar (right of the address bar) didn't include Google as an option, as I'm used to. Proceeding to the option to add search providers, I finally found it, along with a "reason" it wasn't there by default.

enter image description here

A little put off by that, but not too worried about it, (they need money too, right?) I found the link for Google and enabled it. Now it was available, and all was good. Except that it wasn't.

Normally, as I type in the search box I get suggestions that lend themselves to what's been typed so far. Often this shortens my typing significantly. Now, it wasn't doing that. I switched back to Yahoo, and it work as normal. Back to Google, no such luck. Not unfamiliar with about:config I poked around, then dug around, and did some comparisons with settings between Yahoo and Google. No dice, can't find what triggers the difference in behavior.

"Ok," says I to self, I'm just go to the repository and drop the Mint custom version, and install the Mozilla original version. Into software manager and drill down to Firefox. No options to upgrade, downgrade, switch versions, or anything else, just "Remove" which, after doing that, only gives the option to "Install." Shows what version will be installed, but no options to change it.

I'm not a Mint user, so I don't know if there's other options for controlling software or not. I'm sure that a source install is likely to be available somehow. But.. Is that the point.

As I understand "Free" software, it's about choice, and not having someone, disto author in this case, dictate what I can use. The option to add Google seemed to fulfill that promise, until I found it only half-worked. Making it difficult, maybe prohibitively so, to replace the restrictive version with an unrestricted version was the icing on the cake.


So, Linux Mint, Linux kernel and all, is, or is not, Free software? BTW: The source is available, so it's probably "Open source" at least.

The proper question relates only to the version of Firefox, firefox_51.0.1+linuxmint1+rosa, supplied in the repos of Mint, not to the distro itself, or to any other package in the disto, including the kernel. As such, the question should have been, "Does the version of Firefox supplied with Linux Mint 17.3 comply with the MPL and is it still free within the FSF concept?"


In re: the "crippling" of the software: I don't know how long I've been using Mozilla products, or Firefox in general, but as their product have evolved, and as I've moved from one distro to another, between OSs, and between platforms, I have become accustomed to features behaving consistently across them all.

I'll not argue, here or in comments, as to whether or not that version is "crippled." I do know that it is modified, and that it does not work the same as every other release of Firefox that I have available to me for testing. The modified source code is available, to anyone who wants it, and according to the accepted answer, modified or not it does comply with the FSF's four freedoms. That was the question, and that is the answer.

I have been replying to comments that go beyond the scope of the question, and I probably shouldn't have been. By my rep, even across SE as a whole, you can see that I'm learning the Stack Exchange way. Comments about the real question will be replied to, while my crippled phrase, my improper scope to include the distro, and related debates won't be fueled by me. Further insights, or explanations that are germane to the OS topic are welcomed and encouraged. That's how others like me can learn.

  • 2
    linux is free. you have the freedom to choose another distro, which configures firefox the way you want it to be. firefox is free, download the source and compile it on mint. if you freely choose to use a distro and choose to use the distros paketmanager, you have to live with the pre-desicions. you are free to compile your linux from scratch... maybe you have enough time... :)
    – swe
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 9:47
  • 6
    You may be confused what "repository" means. In the case of Linux distribution, it is the particular collection of all software that belongs to the specific distro. Nothing else. So you cannot use the repository tools to install software from outside it. And the Mozilla hosted version is not in it; that's all. That doesn't mean it's less free; quite the contrary: there are non-free programs in the repository itself.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 9:56
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    You seem to be under the impression that this feature has been deliberately 'crippled'. Adding a search engine in the ordinary way doesn't tell Firefox anything about how to ask for search suggestions. Did you try the instructions available online for fixing this issue by editing an XML file?
    – Random832
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 12:33
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    @GypsySpellweaver What I was saying is that it sounds like you are suggesting that they deliberately sabotaged it so that adding google in the way you added it would not enable suggestions - which would go far beyond simply deciding to remove google, whereas the reality is that what you added was never the same thing that they removed.
    – Random832
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 13:29
  • 1
    See the page about Firefox support for OpenSearch XML files.
    – deltab
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 15:11

2 Answers 2


Software is free (as defined by the FSF) if it gives you the four freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

It could have bad usability, it could have bugs, it could spy on you, it could technically restrict browsing to certain sites or installation of certain software, it could intentionally delete your music – as long as it gives you the four freedoms, it qualifies as free software.

Thanks to these freedoms, you are allowed and enabled to change the things you don’t like, and to share the changed software with others. Note that this doesn’t mean that you need to be able to change it e.g. within the GUI, or that is has to be easy – it just has to be allowed (legally) and possible (source code provided).

So the issue you mention doesn’t affect whether or not Linux Mint is free software.

Is it free software? Well, this depends on what is meant with "it", as a GNU/Linux distribution consists of many different parts, and could come with separate but pre-installed software.
If we talk about the ISO that can be downloaded (so not taking any packages into account that can be installed from their repository): According to Linux Mint’s FAQ Does Linux Mint include proprietary drivers?, it doesn’t contain any proprietary software (but note that this applies to the current release; it seems that this was not the case for older releases). So yes, Linux Mint is free software.

  • 1
    Fair enough. Crippling it "feels" wrong, but per the four freedoms, it's allowed. Their mods are covered by freedom 1, I guess. +1 for the extra re Mint as a whole, when I should have narrowed the Q to their mod'ed Firefox.
    – user7180
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 7:36
  • 6
    Agreed, but you are "free" to uncripple it ;-)
    – Mawg
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 10:23
  • 2
    Also, a lot of users want to have search-as-you-type disabled either for privacy reasons or to avoid paying for extra network traffic. The distributor made a default choice that is likely to be more aligned with their user base rather than force someone else's personal preference on them. Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 10:41
  • 1
    @SimonRichter In Firefox, standard anyway, if privacy is set, then auto suggest in the URL bar is turned off automatically. It can also be disable merely for convenience with privacy turned off, if it's annoying to the user. My surprise was that it worked for their preferred search engines but not for the ones they shunned.
    – user7180
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 10:52
  • Related: Free as in “free speech”, not as in “free beer” on English Language Learners. Full disclosure: The accepted answer is my own (but there are several others as well).
    – user
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 19:12

As far as I know:

Software: refer to the non-physical part of the computer system in the form of encoded information that controls its behavior. A collection of computer programs, libraries and related data.

Computer program is a collection of instructions that performs a specific task when executed by a computer.

Source code is any collection of computer instructions, possibly with comments, written using a human-readable programming language, usually as ordinary text.

Users actually read the source code to understand the program that runs in their computers and is distributed to them in form of software (with data, config files, documentation, etc...)

The users can know the program (what the computer does) by reading the documentation or trying the features but they can not understand the encoded information that the machine actually runs (are just numbers) therefore they can not modify the program directly.

When a user read the the FSF definition of free software he might be tempted to feel like anything can be made with the software but it is not.

The program is a pre-established sequence of instructions by the programmers who make it. In the precise moment that you modify the sequence of instruction you are creating another program. (one new version is actually another program with the same name)

So even when they say...

The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).

the user has a limited degree of freedom. The program would never give you the freedom to do something it was not designed to do. Nevertheless, the user has a certain pre-designed amount of options to drive its behavior through configuration parameters.

Now that we are clear that you are actually using another version of firefox. Can they distribute it?

The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

That makes clear that they have the right to modify Firefox and distribute it. What is not clear is whether they can use the same name or Artwork for the software, given the precedence that Debian seems to be forced to use different ones in their fork named Iceweasel.

You will find more if you put this into your firefox's URL address bar:


Important here is the Mozilla Public License. It is GPL compatible (in the sense that is not contradictory), but it allows that some parts of the software are not GPL if it is properly remarked. Check the sections:

  • 1.12. “Secondary License”

  • 1.5. “Incompatible With Secondary Licenses”

  • 3.3. Distribution of a Larger Work

  • 10.4. Distributing Source Code Form that is Incompatible With Secondary Licenses

  • Exhibit B - “Incompatible With Secondary Licenses” Notice

So the way to check this is:

  1. Locate the source code of the version.

  2. Check the Exhibit B of the license there. Otherwise not stated there the GPL also applies.

According to the GPL under the section: Conveying Modified Source Versions you will see:

a) The work must carry prominent notices stating that you modified it, and giving a relevant date.

and that seems to be precisely the notification that your screenshot shows.

So I think that yes, is free software, at less you locate the MPL license accompanying the source code with their modifications and note it states the contrary.

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