Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue

Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue

Summary: There's disorganization and disputes in Linux desktop circles.


Linux is the supercomputer operating system of choice; thanks to Android, Linux is becoming the most popular smartphone operating system of them all;and Linux continues to make gains in the server market. But, when it comes to the desktop, no matter how you measure it, Linux has never how more than a tiny share of the desktop market. Why? Well, I can give you lots of reasons, but one that Mark Shuttleworth founder of Canonical, the company behind the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, has pointed out that there's a lot of disorganization and disorder in Linux desktop developer circles.

The specific problem that started the current discussions roiling the Linux desktop waters was explored by Dave Neary, a member and former director of the GNOME, in a commentary on how Canonical and Ubuntu people claimed that "We offered our help to GNOME, and they didn't want it."

The technical problem behind the dispute is that GNOME rejected the Ubuntu Ayatana system status indicators. These indicators, and their messaging application programming interfaces (APIs) would be used on the Linux desktop to convey such information as "Whether you are connected, what the time is, whether you are online, whether your battery will last long enough for you to finish your work, whether you have messages," etc. etc.

I think we can all agree that this is useful information for desktop users. The devil, as usual, was in the hard work details of getting it to work. The GNOME release team rejected Ayatana because it wouldn't integrate in the forthcoming GNOME 3.0 shell, GNOME didn't need it in any case, and that the developers didn't follow up on it. From how Neary tells the story, "the discussion petered out [and there was] no feedback .., from the GNOME Shell team." This was "hardly ideal."

Further work on the Ubuntu and GNOME technical dispute by Neary revealed, that Ayanta, under the name, StatusNotifier spec, had been worked on by KDE developers and that GNOME developers had reviewed the spec. Never-the-less, Neary states that "It is disingenuous to call StatusNotifier a cross-desktop standard. Hosting a document on the freedesktop.org wiki does not a cross-desktop standard make."

He's right as far that goes. FreeDesktop was meant to facilitate development work on low-level interoperability between Unix and Linux desktops. For the last few years though the FreeDestkop 'organization' has done little though to further its mission.

Neary went on to state that Mark [Shuttleworth] wants GNOME to have "strong, mature technical leadership." Neary then stated that "My understanding of GNOME is this: GNOME does not have technical leadership - it hasn't had clear technical leadership since, as I understand it, the creation of the GNOME Foundation (at which point, by design, the board was given a mandate to build and define GNOME, and then soon afterwards removed that mandate from itself). The foundation does not now dictate any vision or direction for GNOME."

Neary continued, "It can be argued that this is something which should be changed. That change will be effected by people involved in the foundation and the project. It is not enough for Mark to tell the project that "you need leadership", or Jono Bacon [the Ubuntu community leader] telling foundation members (as he told me in 2007) that they should step up to the plate."

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Shuttleworth on GNOME

To Neary's comments, Shuttleworth replied, "The reason I care is, to state the obvious, a well-functioning GNOME is important to Ubuntu and Canonical. And I don't think we're there. Alternatively, a well-functioning FreeDesktop.org is important, and we're not there either.

I agree. GNOME appears to have become an organization without any organization, and FreeDesktop has grown dusty with disuse. Look at Neary's own words: GNOME doesn't have technical leadership. What!? How can a group working something as technical as a major revision of a Linux desktop not have technology leadership!?

Shuttleworth's response is "Perhaps a more accurate summation would be 'Gnome is not self-consistent, or deterministic, so it can often come to two quite contradictory conclusions at the same time.'"

Shuttleworth then proceeds to go into a detailed discussion of the various viewpoints from GNOME developers on GNOME; Unity, Ubuntu's new GNOME-based desktop; and what happened with the app indicators.

He concluded, "There are good faith efforts being made to bridge divides all over the show, for which I'm grateful and to which we're contributing. My comments here are to address what I see as convenient papering over, which will not stand the test of time. It's important - to me, to the members of the community working on Unity and Ubuntu (and there are substantial communities in both) that simplistic accusations against us are not left to stand unchallenged. The goal - for everyone, I think - is great free software. I know we're committed to that, and doing what we think is needed to achieve it."

That's all well and good, but I have something to add: GNOME needs a grown-up organization. It needs responsible technical leadership and clear lines of authority. Almost of all the Canonical and GNOME issues, both the technical ones and the resulting bad-feelings, could have been handled much better if GNOME had a clearly defined management structure.

In addition, the FreeDesktop.org needs revitalized. GNOME, KDE, and all the other Linux desktops are, and, to a lesser extent Ubuntu's Unity are once more heading in different directions. On top of that, the smartphone and tablet interfaces, such as Android 2.x and 3.x and webOS, are spinning off in their own directions as well. If this trend continues, mere disagreements about something as relatively minor as status indicators won' matter a bit, because independent software vendors (ISV)s will simply ignore the Linux desktop.

In particular, without leadership and co-ordination with the other Linux desktop players via FreeDesktop or some other such group, I fear GNOME, will become like such obscure Linux desktops as AfterStep, Enlightenment, and FVWM: appreciated by a few enthusiasts, but otherwise ignored.

Topics: Software, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems

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  • Gnome as we know it will end

    I like the current Gnome desktop very much. And I'm sorry to see it go, which in the foreseeable future will happen anyway.

    But I can't imagine switching to either Unity or KDE. I'll probably end up with Xfce or LXDE. :P
    • I think that both KDE and Gnome will end as we know them. We are headed to

      lighter weight, simpler interfaces. And, in the middle of all of the disorganization, I applaud Shuttleworth for realizing that there is no more time for disagreement and management by committee and just doing it. This is the strength of open source. If people spend a lot of time spinning wheels and making it too complicated, someone can come in and simplify and not need to get permission. This is how Firefox was born, and this is how the next hit Linux desktop will be born.
      • I agree with you that someone has to take the lead,

        @DonnieBoy if Linux is ever to fully succeed. Simply stated, why would any hardware manufacture ever want to work with a group of developers who don't have a head (a real leader). You can do things by committee for just so long and than someone has to assume leadership for everything happening in a cohesive manner. Up to now both Gnome & KDE have done a splendid job ..... but its time to change how they do things or they will end up remaining a very sophisticated hobbyist operating system to hardware suppliers. If that's what the developers want than so be it, but if you want the H.P.s & Dell's to work with you, you need a leadership and thats what they see in Shuttleworth.

        PS and 11.04 alpha 3 works just great for me and it will for the majority of new and old users out there alike.
        Over and Out
      • SoYouSaid: I hope Shuttleworth can pull it off and put out a simplified and

        very intuitive desktop. I like his approach better than ChromeOS.
      • RE: Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue

        I think it should be noted that this is NOT an advantage. You're basically saying that eventually firefox will suck so much that the next open source project will replace it.

        Instead of IMPROVING the code, doing a REAL re-write... you'll just disregard the code, or kiddy script it into a new engine. At least, that is your implication.

        This IS, however, a serious problem with open source. There are more kiddy scripters than programmers. The only thing that should be updated between version numbers is the framework... instead we get "features." so many features that the program becomes bloatware and useless.

        I ask again, how is this "a strength"? While proprietary software does similar gags, at least they optimize their code and actually have performance boosts despite the nonsense!

        You may think that committees are just for proprietary software, but the fact is... without them... open source is only for kiddy scripters. Without at least ONE group of educated programmers, you'll always end up with junk.

        A infinite amount of monkeys may produce the works of William Shakespeare... but they'll also produce an infinite amount of trash.
    • RE: Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue

      @pjotr123 Gnome is going to go through the same pain that KDE went through circa 4.0.
      It doesn't matter, anyway. What everyone fails to realize is that FD.o _isn't_ a standards organization. It hosts specifications, and those specs are either picked up or not, similar to how the Internet formed via RFCs.
      From that standpoint, "Hosting a document on the freedesktop.org wiki" and in FD.o's git is all that's required or even allowed. KDE uses StatusNotifier, and now Unity does, too. That makes it "cross-desktop" by definition. Since Ubuntu holds the majority of Linux users, more desktops are sure to follow.
      Meanwhile, GNOME is off playing in its own sandbox. Heck, the devs don't even subscribe to FD.o. They obviously don't care about it.
      SJVN -- The modern Linux desktop is a product of XDG and DBUS, You can thank FD.o for making it work.
      • RE: Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue


        ubuntu doesn't hold "the majority of linux users" you will find that more actually use debian on a daily basis.. ubuntu only looks large because they bother to count and publish downloads and then try to make totals of "users" from download figures.. whereas debian users tend to just upgrade over time or have 1 netinstall disk they use and then on core install do a "dist-upgrade" to the next upstream. Ubuntu is tested by a lot of us.. but we don't and won't use it as it is poisoned by too many lumps of proprietary binaries and patented things owned by novell/microsoft .. no thanks..
        I find gnome rather top heavy, but for now it works for me.. I don't like kde.. never have.. xfce is fine on limited hardware but isn't really a serious contender when it comes to full blown systems.. I can't really comment that much on the others as my forays away from gnome when ram etc is limited have been mostly been driven by minimal system requirements needing a lean homebrew combo like fluxbox/rox
        What nobody seems to grasp is.. linux isn't in the world of competing with the payware monoliths.. who all look the same and do the same stuff their way and take it or leave it.. linux is about freedom of choice.. if tomorrow I decide I don't like gnome I can change.. there is plenty of choice after all... is that possible on a mac or windows 7?
      • RE: Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue


        "From that standpoint, "Hosting a document on the freedesktop.org wiki" and in FD.o's git is all that's required or even allowed."

        Yes, it's just that easy. Just get the permission of the existing members of fd.o to accept your idea and grant you access to their inner sanctum. Forget that they have vested interests and belong to the "I _am_ the community" school, that will not bias them.

        Now wonder why fd.o is dead. Perhaps what we need is some sort of bazaar of ideas instead of a cathedral run by an inner cadre of priests and self-appointed bishops.
    • RE: Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue

      :)nice post
  • RE: Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue

    Red Hat is comfortable at this point with having Gnome as the default desktop for Fedora.
  • RE: Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue

    KDE rocks, why I never liked Ubuntu.
    • RE: Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue


      That's why I use Kubuntu.
      Michael Kelly
      • RE: Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue

        @Michael Kelly Yes me too, but i have the impression that the perfomance of Gnome's better, but i do like the kde design more, maybe i'm only nostalgic?
  • RE: Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue

    So what about KDE? Does KDE have a strong technical leadership?
    Grayson Peddie
    • RE: Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue

      @Grayson Peddie

      KDE isn't showing much signs of leadership weakness. I'd say its more technical weakness, since it took them so long to get their s*** together in technical aspects with early KDE4 releases. Now, however, they are starting to fulfil their potential
    • RE: Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue

      @Grayson Peddie Yes it does. I've disagreed with them from time to time, but KDE has go-to people who can make things happen.GNOME, right now, not so much.

      • The whole story

        @sjvn@... <br><br>According to Aaron Seigo's <a href="http://aseigo.blogspot.com/2011/03/collaborations-demise.html">recent posting</a> the GNOME folks may suffer from NIH syndrome. The GNOME folks don't seem to be very willing to cooperate towards cross-desktop interop.<br><br>Maybe you could get his perspective and post more about this.<br><br>I've noticed this attitude for a while concerning GNOME.<br><br>Of course I'm a biased KDE fan.
        Tim Patterson
  • RE: Ubuntu Linux and GNOME: The Disputes continue

    I switched between many desktop environments but always seem to go back to gnome. Compared to KDE gnome feels less cluttered. Now there's nothing wrong with KDE, I used to use it back in the day when I used SuSe 10.1 because at that time Gnome felt too bubbly and cluttered. They seemed to switch looks over the years. In any event, Gnome will still be available in Ubuntu, just not the default. And don't forget Xfce. That's a pretty good lightweight desktop environment.
    • Disagreeing With You (Respectfully)

      @KBot :<br>I would respectfully submit that LXDE is better for older hardware. Im supporting a couple of older ladies with Pentium III Compaqs (originally, they had 384 MB RAM, but now they each have 512 MB RAM). I have one on openSUSE 11.3 (icewm D.E., if I recall correctly -- been a while since I worked on that machine) and the other on Lubuntu 10.10 ( <a href="http://eyeonlinux.com/2010/10/20/quick-look-lubuntu-10-10/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="http://eyeonlinux.com/2010/10/20/quick-look-lubuntu-10-10/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://eyeonlinux.com/2010/10/20/quick-look-lubuntu-10-10/</a></a> ). Since both machines choke relatively easily on big (but not necessarily bloated) software, I have to go out of my way to find the lightest OSes that I can find -- I tried puppyLinux and Damned Small Linux, but they are not novice-friendly. Why the machines would have a harder time with Xubuntu than with Lubuntu is beyond me.
      • Tip: reduce the swap use (swappiness) of those machines

        Off topic, but I recommend decreasing the swap use (swappiness) of those old computers:

        This hack usually makes old PC's with little RAM fly. :-)