Obnoxious licensing problems with spelling dictionaries

Discussion of general topics about Mozilla Firefox

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Joined: December 9th, 2005, 5:03 am

Post Posted April 13th, 2009, 12:18 pm

Mozilla Firefox comes in many localized versions for many different languages, which is a good thing.

Mozilla Firefox has built-in spell-checking, which is also a good thing.

So, for example, if you download the installer for English (US) or for Lithuanian and install it and go write an email in GMail or edit a Wikipedia article in one of these languages, you’ll immediately see your spelling errors. This makes perfect sense.

But if you download an installer localized for English (UK), Catalan or Hebrew, you won’t see your spelling errors. The Firefox binary has spell-checking capabilities, but the installer doesn’t include the actual dictionary. Firefox-compatible dictionaries for these languages exist, and they are licensed as Free Software (GPL or LGPL), and you can add them manually after installing (right-click -> Languages -> Add Dictionaries), but here comes the ridiculous part: The guys behind refuse to include those dictionaries in the installer. The reason, apparently, is that to be included in the installer, the dictionary must be 300% compatible with Firefox’s license, because Firefox is tri-licensed as GPL/LGPL/MPL, and a dictionary that is GPL-only is not good enough.

It is hard enough to convince people to install Firefox in the first place; convincing them to install additional dictionaries, plug-ins, add-ons etc. tends to frustrate them even more. Contrary to the belief which is popular among Firefox power users , most people are not add-on junkies and don’t right-click everywhere. So, even though Firefox users in London, Barcelona and Jerusalem can see Firefox menus in their respective languages, they have dead-weight spell-checking code on their hard drives, because they didn’t get a spelling dictionary in the installation, and many of them don’t even know that a Firefox-compatible spelling dictionary for their language exists.

Is this obnoxious licensing requirement really required? Isn’t Free Software licensing supposed to make distributing software easier?

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