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Speculation notwithstanding, the GNOME desktop environment is not dependent on systemd, the init system that has been the subject of much discussion, two senior GNOME developers say.

Vincent Untz (above, left), the chairman of the openSUSE board and project manager of SUSE Cloud, and Frédéric Crozat (above, right), release and project manager for SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, both said perceptions to this effect were wrong.

The two, who have been with the GNOME project for a long time, spoke to iTWire on the sidelines of SUSECon, the second annual conference of SUSE Linux, that concluded in Orlando, Florida, on Friday.

The development of systemd began in 2006 and the two key people behind it are Lennart Poettering and Kay Sievers. Poettering is a Red Hat employee while Sievers was with SUSE at the time systemd development began and later switched to Red Hat. Given this, systemd is often seen as a Red Hat initiative.

Systemd has been the subject of much discussion, especially among developers of the Debian project; the project has now tasked its technical committee with deciding whether it will make a switch from the Sys V init system for its next release. The Ubuntu distribution has its own init system, called upstart, developed by a former employee Scott James Remnant; this system was used by Red Hat's community distribution, Fedora, and also openSUSE, in one of its development releases, before systemd came on the scene. Both now use systemd.

GNOME has been the default desktop interface for many Linux distributions and if it were dependent on systemd, then that would mean that any distribution that wishes to use it would necessarily have to change its init system to systemd.

Crozat, who was intimately involved in implementing systemd for openSUSE - the init system became the default in openSUSE 12.3 and is planned to be in SUSE Linux Enterprise 12 - said: "It (the idea that GNOME is dependent on systemd) is some kind of misconception by some people who tend to see systemd and GNOME as one large project. It is similar to the public reaction against GNOME 3.0 when it was released."

Added Untz: "In systemd lots of hard design decisions have been taken and therefore some design decisions get enforced on the operating system. This may not be liked by some people."

This point was reinforced by Crozat. "When people are doing something one way, they don't like having to do it a different way. They become vocal," he said.

"People should make sure systemd is properly integrated. When it is not properly integrated, bugs manifest themselves. And then these people blame systemd for the bugs."

Asked whether he would mandate systemd for all distributions, Untz responded that he believed in choice. "I would let people choose. But for a distribution I design, I would use systemd," he said.

"Some people seem to think that systemd is controlled by Red Hat because it was started by some people at Red Hat," Crozat said. "That isn't the case. (Kay) Sievers was in SUSE when the project began."

Untz said systemd was working in one direction - to advance the system and make the whole experience better for users. "It's important for me that GNOME work for non-Linux users," he said referring to the speculation that GNOME was becoming dependent on systemd.

When the question of portability was raised, Crozat said that systemd was using a number of features present in the Linux kernel in a way that had not been done before. "It has always been designed with Linux in kind," he added.

Untz said the implementation of systemd was Linux-specific. "But the API is not and therefore it can be implemented in other systems," he said.

In support of this, Crozat pointed to HAL, the hardware abstraction layer which was used in Linux some years ago. "HAL was Linux-specific but it was ported to other operating systems," he said.

Regarding the use of systemd in openSUSE, Crozat said while the developers were behind it, the community was initially divided. "Some people were reluctant to make the switch (from Sys V). Many complained, saying 'this or that does not work any more'."

Underlying his earlier comment about proper integration, he said the initial implementation in openSUSE took more than three months.

Given the fact that neither developer had any any doubt about systemd being a better choice for a distribution, they were asked why there appeared to be so much resistance to change.

Untz said it was a general thing. "If any distro asks which desktop should be its default, there will be long arguments," he said. "It is the same if you ask which editor should be default - vi or emacs. It is impossible for developers to only look at the technical side. There is a lot of emotion involved."

Crozat smiled at these comments and added: "We are human too."

Some of the opposition to systemd has arguably been because of the personality of its chief proponent, Poettering who has been not been particularly diplomatic in pushing its adoption.

With regard to this, Untz said: "Because of the emotion, we may be shortsighted. Lennart (Poettering) is not a robot, he is often ironic and sarcastic but many of us are that way. Overall, he has been pushing it on the technical side."

Crozat agreed. "Lennart can be abrupt at times," he said.

When it came to use of a particular init system - in this case systemd or upstart - being seen as tacit acceptance of the philosophy of either Red Hat or Canonical, Untz said he was of the opinion that Red Hat did not care. "Perhaps Canonical does. I can tell you the systemd people do not care one bit. They feel they are doing the right thing. They are not forcing anyone to do anything."

With regard to the politics surrounding the whole issue, Crozat said Canonical could be avoiding systemd for either technical or non-technical reasons. "But you should ask them that," he said, with a smile.

The writer attended SUSECon as a guest of SUSE.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.