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Storm erupts over Dell charging £16 for Firefox installation, Mozilla begins investigation

As we all know, Mozilla’s Firefox is a piece of free software, yet Dell has apparently been charging to install the browser on its computers (or at least one model, anyway).

This was unearthed by the Register (via the Beeb), when one of its readers sent in a grab of additional software which was offered during the purchase of a Dell machine. There was an option to install the Firefox browser shown, with a charge of £16.25 levied.

Mozilla wasn’t best pleased to hear about this. The browser developer told the Beeb that it had no agreement with Dell for imposing a fee on the open source Firefox, and Denelle Dixon-Thayer, VP of Mozilla's general counsel, said: “Our trademark policy makes clear that this is not permitted and we are investigating this specific report.”

Dell had a response for the BBC, though, and noted that the browser wasn’t being charged for, but that customers were paying for the time and effort to install it.

The PC vendor said: “In this particular situation, the customer would not be charged for the Mozilla Firefox software download, rather the fee would cover the time and labour involved for factory personnel to load a different image than is provided on the system's standard configuration.”

That’s all well and good – well, aside from the fact that £16 seems a thorny old charge for a few minutes work – but Mozilla’s trademark policy states that “the Mozilla product must be without cost and its distribution (whether by download or other media) may not be subject to a fee, or tied to subscribing to or purchasing a service.”

So it’s a bit of a murkily grey area here, really.

This has sparked a lot of coverage, and The Next Web has been busy combing through all the Dell PC models in the UK, as well as the US and Canada, looking for the Firefox option. The website found that one model in the UK, the Optiplex 7010, was offering the Firefox installation. However, we’ve just examined the options on that PC, and lo and behold – no Firefox installation is present any more.

That would suggest Dell has recently yanked it down, following the firestorm which has erupted on this one.

We’ll just have to see what Mozilla’s legal team makes of the affair in due course.

If we had £16.25 for every time we installed Firefox… we’d probably have around £500. As to how much Dell’s coffers have swelled through browser installs – we must admit, we find it difficult to believe anyone would tick the box and pay £16 for Firefox to come on their PC. Yes, we realise that’s not the point, and it’s the principle of the thing…

But if you can't work out how to install Firefox yourself, you should probably go for something a bit simpler than a PC. An Etch-a-Sketch, perhaps.