Archive for August 20, 2012

Racing to insignificance

August 20, 2012 25 comments

Bruce Byfield wrote a long and detailed piece recently about his take on the state of GNOME, and while long it does go into great detail what direction GNOME is taking — not an entirely healthy one, in his opinion — and what they might want to look at to right what Bruce thinks is a listing, if not a sinking, ship.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: When Bruce and I disagree, fur usually flies and a knock-down-drag-out ensues, usually for the entire 15 rounds before it’s normally called a draw. But this is not one of those times, because on the whole Bruce’s assessment seems to be pretty much right on the mark.

Until a couple of days ago, I would have thought that folks at GNOME — especially those in the marketing group — would have read this piece and said, “Hmmm, let’s take a look at this to see what’s right and what’s wrong about it.”

But apparently that’s not the case. Instead, we have borderline hysteria in the marketing group’s exchanges on the mailing list about how to address “trolls” like Bruce Byfield writing for online publications like Datamation which, according to contributors on the list, exist — like Phoronix — only for the sole purpose of bringing down GNOME.

Until yesterday I was a member of that mailing list — it was a holdover to the days when, as a Fedora Ambassador Mentor and keeper of the Fedora event box, I also kept the GNOME event box for an extended period of time and sent it along with the Fedora box to various events. When I was unable to keep using GNOME with the introduction of GNOME 3, I stopped using GNOME but never left the mailing list for a variety of reasons.

For having the unmitigated gall of offering some observations about Bruce’s article on the marketing mailing list, along with some of my own opinions about how GNOME is fostering a separate-but-(un)equal culture with its “Fallback Mode” — and note to GNOME marketing: Seriously, “Fallback Mode?” This is the best name you could come up with? — apparently I’ve been ushered out the door.

I’m OK with that, actually, because the last thing I need is more to read, especially when it’s whiny hand-wringing by some on a mailing list who wouldn’t know objective and rational thinking if it were dropped on them, let alone understanding historical comparisons when presented to them.

But I’ll bring up what I raised in that discussion, and it’s nothing you haven’t read on this blog before. It is this:

POINT: GNOME needs to have a better strategy in addressing people in the tech press who criticize it than calling them trolls, let alone being under the childishly misguided impression that on-line publications are out to get them. To be fair, I think some of the more thoughtful members of the GNOME marketing group understand this, though apparently some don’t. I would like to think some of the smarter, more rational people here will prevail in forming some sort of

POINT: I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Having GNOME 3 and a “Fallback Mode” for those whose hardware cannot run GNOME 3 invites and forms a caste system, digitally speaking — providing benefits to a higher class of computer user and not offering the same to others. It is the digital equivalent of making some users sit in the back of the bus. Rational people understand this comparison: GNOME did not outwardly intend to make a desktop environment with the sole purpose of digital inequality, but arguably that’s how it ended up. It is a case of the best intentions backfiring; while it’s nice that GNOME is offering users of older hardware at least something, it’s still far too little in comparison to what others have. Some people find this comparison to a caste system or to “separate but equal” offensive, and if it offends your sensibilities, my apologies. However, the truth is still the truth.

I offered what I thought were some helpful observations to the GNOME marketing list, and I was shown the door. Again, I’m OK with that because as much as I’d like to see GNOME succeed, I can just as easily watch from trackside as they race toward the checkered flag of insignificance. Bear in mind that while once GNOME was all there was for the Linux desktop, today there are a healthy variety of desktop alternatives — many of which have surpassed GNOME in usability across a wide range of hardware.

This my-way-or-highway mentality encountered on this mailing list is the kind of behavior I expect from others, like the Ubuntu Apocalypse for example; where any remote deviation from the Ubuntu/Canonical party line is met with a kick to the curb by zombies marching, hands in front of them, toward a future dictated to them by corporate masters.

I expect better from GNOME, but that may be asking too much. Rather than making any further comparisons, let me just leave you with the final paragraph of Bruce’s article, which I hope thoughtful GNOME advocates will keep from being prophetic:

“Probably, at some point, something called GNOME 4 will be released. But if the early indications are accurate, by the time it appears, nobody will be left to care.”

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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