Home > GNOME, Ubuntu, Unity > Racing to insignificance

Racing to insignificance

August 20, 2012

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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  1. August 20, 2012 at 8:57 am

    You know…..I am not privy to the wizardry behind it, but Ikey Doherty, the founder and lead (read only) Dev for SolusOS has found a way to make Gnome 3 behave EXACTLY like Gnome 2 sans the shell, WITHOUT the need for hardware acceleration. Now, this is one Irishman with sub-standard equipment who gains his internet from a tethered 3G phone. He has the most primitive tools with which to work, yet wonder of wonders, he’s providing exactly what Gnome users want.

    Currently, his most up-to-date release is SolusOS 1.2 which is still running Gnome 2.30 but if the Alpha of SolusOS 2 is any indication of things to come, I am swallow-my-tongue impressed. Yes, I said Alpha. As reported on his forums, many are using the alpha as a production system. I can hardly wait for the Beta…..which by all accounts will be more stable and bug-free than the current release of Gnome 3. Unlike Mint Mate or Cinnamon, SolusOS 2 will be able to utilize GTK 3 technology and theming while still remaining comparable with GTK 2 stuff. I find that bit of magic amazing.

    Again, one guy working in what could be equaled to a cave, by comparison to the Gnome labs, has shown them how it is supposed to be done.

    Reglue, previously The HeliOS Project, will adapt a special respin of SolusOS as our default distro for thousands of computers over the next few years.

    Personally, I have taken a perverse pleasure of late in watching the Gnome train wreck in extreme slowmo. Not nice I know, but I was able to get great seats……

    • August 20, 2012 at 9:15 am

      I’ve been a user of Cinnamon since it was announced. It’s using Gnome’s backend, but with the UI “done right”. Gnome Devs would do themselves a favor if they looked at what Cinnamon does, and why so many are using it, rather than continue blindly digging that hole they’re in right now.

  2. August 20, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Seriously? They banned you from the list? That’s unacceptable.

    • August 20, 2012 at 9:23 am

      Yes, but I’m inclined to believe that it was not the consensus of the group to drop-kick me through the posts, because I was having side conversations on this issue off-list with others when I got the notice that I was removed.

      • August 20, 2012 at 10:06 am

        Oh, whoa, I didn’t realize that you were actually booted — I thought you were saying that you chose to unsub.

  3. Bruce Byfield
    August 20, 2012 at 9:41 am

    I disagree violently with you on this one. This Byfield person is obviously a troll hired by a sinister cabal of KDE and Xfce developers to bring GNOME down. It’s obvious that anybody who agrees with GNOME’s own developers that there’s a problem is an enemy of the people, and no doubt in the pay of Microsoft and Apple as well.

  4. August 20, 2012 at 10:05 am

    I notice that there are still zero comments on the datamation article. I didn’t find it very trollish.

    FACT: many have been complaining about GNOME 3, and the “Staring into the Abyss” post, and the way it was rapidly shared around and discussed, is a fair indicator that there’s something worth discussing here.

    Then, Bruce gives a bunch of possible solutions, which are all pretty straightforward.

    Bottom line, GNOME changed a bunch of people’s desktops in a big way, and they didn’t do a very good job explaining WHY. I use GNOME 3, I’ve gotten to like it, but I was put off by the way the changes came down.

    That’s my take as a GNOME user since 1.4 or so — and I really liked 2.0 when it arrived.

    • August 20, 2012 at 10:12 am

      It’s interesting because they were talking about pointing out the “wrongs” in the article on the mailing list (probably still are), which is fine and what they should be doing, and if you say they haven’t yet then it may not happen. And you’re absolutely right, Jason — GNOME made a huge change and didn’t handle explaining the “why” very well.

      As for being booted, Stormy Peters is looking into it. I don’t know the process or protocol of the GNOME mailing list, but I think it was more a “loose cannon” action than anything that had to do with procedure.

  5. Bruce Byfield
    August 20, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Seriously, Larry: Thanks for having my back. I’m only sorry that people started attacking you because of me.

    • August 20, 2012 at 10:20 am

      No problem, Bruce, and you’re welcome.

  6. August 20, 2012 at 10:13 am

    YearOfTheFracturedCommunity™ – The community has run off anyone with an opinion and the technical background to challenge things like this. You wouldn’t have ever have seen this a few years ago. Now, when you speak out against something that you can see is being done wrong you get called names like troll and $hill and / or banned – because it is easier to eliminate the “problem” than it is to admit fault.

    I’m sorry you were banned Larry, but I’m really not surprised. That’s what our greater “community” has become.

    In just trying to defend my own work in the free software realm, it has been nothing but an uphill battle for me personally, so I can definitely relate. Whenever we reach out beyond our little “bubble” we receive nothing but hatred and disdain from the larger population.

    I have even been banned from a few FOSS sites – one of which you frequent, just for speaking my mind, and holding my ground.

    To tell you the truth, it is tiring. Don’t let them bring you down though, if you get tired of whatever it is our “community” has become, come find us at Fuduntu. We won’t treat you like that.

    • August 20, 2012 at 10:42 am

      I don’t think it’s that bad (and I certainly am not disappointed that I’m kicked off one of the dozens of mailing lists I’m on — it’s just one less to read), and I think cooler heads in leadership positions ultimately prevail in what appears to be divisions. However, I don’t think people should avoid speaking their minds when they feel they need to.

      Hope things in the Fuduntu realm are going well.

  7. jorge
    August 20, 2012 at 10:26 am

    “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”

    Stay classy!

    • August 20, 2012 at 10:26 am

      You bet, Jorge.

  8. colonelpanik
    August 20, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Cha Cha Cha Changes.
    Or “Don’t Ban Me Bro”?

    GNOME 3.0 was released on April 6, 2011. That is a year and a bunch ago. Sigh,
    more old news dressed in new hyperbole.

    KDE 4.0 January 11, 2008. OMG alien zombie drug dealers have taken control.
    38 jillion users leave KDE and take up, well, whatever it was. (lol, KDE never had
    even 1 jillion users) Today? I guess KDE is chugging along okay, I even know some
    users. How many NEW users did KDE pickup on all the “he said, she said” churn that
    lasted for a couple of months? So far in the past that half of the FOSS crowd was in
    grade school. Let’s all talk merits of our buggy whips, eh?

    The whole GNOME thing and the KDE thing were people problems, not software
    problems. There are always work-a-rounds for software problems. People are
    trickier than software, have to reboot more often.

    Soon there will be some other software that changes the color of an icon and the
    tech writers will mount their steeds (nice picture?) and ride to the confusion.
    Life will continue.

    The Colonel uses the best distro, other than yours of course.
    The Colonel uses the best desktop, other than yours.
    The Colonel uses the best browser, other than yours.
    Best Audio program. Best office suite Best editor Terminal.

    From Wikipedia:

    The term community has two distinct meanings: 1) A group of interacting people, living in some proximity (i.e., in space, time, or relationship). Community usually refers to a social unit larger than a household that shares common values and has social cohesion. The term can also refer to the national community or international community, and, 2) in biology, a community is a group of interacting living organisms sharing a populated environment. A community is a group or society, helping each other.

    In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.

    Since the advent of the Internet, the concept of community has less geographical limitation, as people can now gather virtually in an online community and share common interests regardless of physical location. Prior to the internet, virtual communities (like social or academic organizations) were far more limited by the constraints of available communication and transportation technologies.

    The word “community” is derived from the Old French communité which is derived from the Latin communitas (cum, “with/together” + munus, “gift”), a broad term for fellowship or organized society.[1] Some examples of community service is to help in church, tutoring, hospitals, etc.

  9. August 20, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Something to note here, and I hope it’s taken with a bit of solace as well. Starting with Gnome 3.4 (iirc, the versions get mixed up in my head) most people with a computer get the same interface, whether they are using a newer system or not. Ideally, this was the plan all along and so the debate may continue for some who are unwilling or unable to update to the newer version, but at least ‘Fallback Mode’ really shouldn’t be a debate any longer.

  10. Mark
    August 20, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    As a Linux user of about 10 years who has always used KDE and has only the most passing acquaintance with Gnome, I would like to address the KDE kerfuffle from a kouple of years ago.

    What KDE did was redesign their desktop from the ground up. Implementing this new infrastructure required that functions be stripped out and radically redesigned, but the basic concept of KDE stayed the same. The kommunity reacted poorly when KDE chose to release what was essentially a final beta version of the desktop as a production version. It took KDE another release or two to “get it right” at the time. For my money, the last several releases have been quite good, and their applications have been katching up pretty well.

    I may be wrong, but I don’t think Gnome did that. It seems to me that Gnome simply tried to unilaterally shift the paradigm. As is often done in business, someone offered up an idea that got adopted into the culture as a value and developers where told this is how it’s going to be. Rather than stripping down the desktop and starting from a fresh foundation, Gnome simply changed the rules of the game and didn’t hold much regard for technological constraints. As a consequence, many users find themselves in a “transition” bounced by “legacy” hardware.

    Users have accepted that sort of thing for far too long. Look at what Windows 95 did for the price of RAM. It would be tantamount to something criminal were there not, as Larry points out, the large number of desktop options available to users today. But that’s not Larry’s point, is it?

    Larry is making another reference (I’ve seen a lot of such references since Gnome3 hit the platters) to the fact that the Gnome folks aren’t brooking much criticism these days. The same thing happened when KDE decided to do what it did. The differences are that KDE seemed to have better rationale for what they were doing, and possibly because of this, they let a lot of the criticism roll off their backs and proceeded with the project. Very few were injured and even fewer killed over it.

    I don’t know what’s going on at Gnome. They seem terribly defensive about it.

    I’m just saying.

    • August 21, 2012 at 7:18 am

      The problem with KDE and GNOME is the developers basically acted unilaterally without really considering the impact of their actions on the user community. In the case of KDE, the distros helped that along a bit in some cases by switching to 4.x prematurely even though KDE 3.5.x was still being maintained. However, when KDE did stop maintaining 3.5.x the 4.x branch was still not at par (at least in many users’ eyes) with the 3.5.x branch.

      The really surprising thing is that GNOME had watched KDE go through this just a few years before and *still* handled things the way that they did – then acted shocked when the user base got upset.

  11. Sri Ramkrishna
    August 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Hey there, it was an unfortunate incident that we are taking care of internally. The action was regrettable and as I was saying in the mailing list, we are listening. The person who did it also issued and apology.

    I’d like to apologize to Larry for this incident. It shouldn’t have happened. Thanks guys. I do appreciate all the feedback. I don’t always agree with it but I will do listen. The thread that I started was really more about how to talk about what we are doing more positively. The irony does not escape me in the end result.

    Thanks again.

    • August 20, 2012 at 3:51 pm

      Thanks, Sri, and I was enjoying our discussion off-list before this happened. You confirmed what my friend Clint Savage mentions in these comments about reaching a point where there’s no longer a need for a “Fallback Mode,” and that would be a great step forward. As for the rest, well human nature being what it is — we’re not always right and we’re not always wrong, but we should be able to address differences.

  12. Colonel Panik
    • August 23, 2012 at 8:00 am

      “We work as a community, we do everything in the open, this is in stark contrast to the way Canonical works.” Hmmm. Where have I heard this before?

  13. Colonel Panik
  14. Colonel Panik
    September 2, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    And the beat goes on. I think there was a kids movie called the Never Ending Story?
    This could be the never ending debate in the Linux word.


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