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GNOME dev proposes vote on split from GNU Project

A senior member of the GNOME Desktop Project has proposed that the project hold a vote on whether it should remain a part of the GNU Project.

Senior GNOME developer Philip Van Hoof made the proposal in a post to the GNOME Foundation's mailing list. He was seconded in this by GNOME Foundation advisory board member David Schlesinger.

Van Hoof's post was part of a long thread that began back in November when Lucas Rocha (corrected) informed members that the GNOME Foundation Board had received complaints from community members about some of the posts on Planet GNOME.

The GNU Project was set up by Richard Stallman in the early 1980s as part of his moves to develop a fully free operating system. Stallman also founded the Free Software Foundation.

GNOME was started in 1997 by Miguel de Icaza, a (corrected) current vice-president of Novell, and Federico Mena-Quintero, in order to develop a free desktop environment for use on Linux. The main desktop environment available for Linux at the time, KDE, was using a proprietary toolkit, QT, which was later released under a free licence as well.

Updated, 2.40pm AEDT: It was initially not possible to ascertain definitely as to what post on Planet GNOME led to the complaints which Rocha (corrected) mentioned. But it seems fairly clear now that this post, about Microsoft's Silverlight, by De Icaza was the catalyst.

As the thread for this post developed, members offered their opinions on the GNOME code of conduct and what could be done to prevent such incidents recurring.

There were proposals that those looking after Planet GNOME exercise editorial control to censor posts that were deemed to be violating the GNOME code of conduct.

Planet GNOME is a site that accumulates RSS feeds from blogs which belong to GNOME members and contributors. One has to formally apply to have one's blog feed accepted and several people who have drifted away from the project still have their blogs fed into the site.

A couple of years ago, anger at the then GNOME media spokesman, Jeff Waugh, who was in charge of Planet GNOME at the time, boiled over and figured in these columns.


The discussion turned to the fact that such censorship might offend members and cause them to leave the project. Dave Neary then brought up the issue of members who had drifted away.

He cited the cases of Dave Camp, Seth Nickell, Alex Graveley, Telsa Gwynne, Jacob Berkmann, Ross Golder, Daniel Veillard, Joe Shaw, and Jorge Castro, claiming they all had left partly because of the project's "tone of discourse".

Neary also cited the cases of Nat Friedman, Miguel de Icaza, Glynn Foster, Waugh, Jody Goldberg, Bill Hanneman, Malcolm Tredinnick, Mark McLoughlin and George Lebl, all of whom he said were people still around free software, "but who no longer consider themselves GNOME community members - I can't speak to their motivations, of course".

The heat came into the discussion much later, when Mandriva's Frederic Crozat pointed out that there were many people who had changed their focus from GNOME and were still on Planet GNOME. "Maybe PGO editors should start cleaning "the old cruft" (no offense intended)..," Crozat wrote. (PGO stands for Planet Gnome.org)

GNOME Board member Behdad Esfahbod then commented : "But I find it interesting to know, say, what Miguel is up to these days. I don't think it's just me..."

This led to a post from Pierre-Luc Beaudoin, which said, in part: "I don't believe Frederic (Crozat) was pointing at Miguel. There are people who have left the Gnome community working on products that don't use any Gnome technology posting blog post/ads for said product on PGO."

Stallman then responded by asking whether the projects in which former members were involved produced free software or not. "I wonder whether these products are free software. If not, they certainly shouldn't promote them on Planet GNOME," he wrote.

The most recent reference to proprietary software on GNOME Planet is a mention of VMware by developer Og Maciel. De Icaza has posted about Microsoft technologies on many occasions, apart from the case cited earlier.


Van Hoof responded brusquely to Stallman, writing: "Nonsense. The people who work at VmWare (sic) also very often posted (and still post) about their work and appear on Planet GNOME. There's nothing wrong with that. Same goes for Nokia and many other companies involved.

"Forbidding those contributors to talk about their work goes directly and philosophically against the "Planet GNOME is a window into the world, work and lives of GNOME hackers and contributors" slogan of the project. You see that word "work" there? Right."

With de Icaza's name figuring in the discussion, it was only a matter of time before the word Mono was mentioned, and Stallman said he had no objection to it as Mono is free software; he, however, said he had a problem with C#.

And in response to Van Hoof's comments about VMware, Stallman said people should not write about their work on Planet GNOME "unless VmWare (sic) becomes free software. GNOME should not provide proprietary software developers with a platform to present non-free software as a good or legitimate thing."

He added: "Perhaps the statement of Planet GNOME's philosophy should be interpreted differently.  It should not invite people to talk about their proprietary software projects just because they are also GNOME contributors."

GNOME chief executive Stormy Peters then said it was pointless to block a whole blog post from Planet GNOME because a small part dealt with something not connected with GNOME.

This prompted Stallman to respond: "GNOME is part of the GNU Project, and it ought to support the free software movement. The most minimal support for the free software movement is to refrain from going directly against it; that is, to avoid presenting proprietary software as legitimate.

"I think Planet GNOME should have a rule to this effect.  There are many ways to implement such a rule, of which 'block the whole blog' is about the toughest one we might consider.  I'd suggest rather to try a mild approach; I'm sure that can do the job."

Lionel Dricot then asked if GNOME was part of any anti-proprietary software movement, prompting Schlesinger to join the discussion.

Responding to Stallman, Schlesinger said: "GNOME is not connected with the anti-VMWare (sic) movement, nor (that I'm aware of) any 'anti-proprietary software' movement'."

He added that GNOME was supporting free software and doing a good job of it and that Stallman's point about abstaining from presenting non-free software as legitimate was nonsense.


It may be recalled that Schlesinger was one of those who launched attacks on Stallman earlier this year, after the latter had made a keynote at the GNOME summit in Gran Canaria, Spain. The attack was based on the claim that Stallman had made sexist remarks during the keynote.

Esfahbod pointed out that the support of five percent of the members was needed for a vote - which Peters contradicted, saying it was 10 percent, something to which Esfahbod later agreed.

But Schlesinger was steaming ahead, continuing his aggressive tone in his next post: "Is there anything in the bylaws as to how this support might be collected and demonstrated? If not, I doubt _anything_ will ever get put to a vote...

"In any event, it's entirely unclear to me what the actual meaning of such a vote might be, beyond 'Stop trying to dictate what people can and can't post on Planet GNOME. Please.' Perhaps it would be enough to simply say that."

He continued: "I don't think anyone - with the possible exception of Mr. Stallman - subscribes to the notion that the GNOME Foundation approves of, endorses, or supports every posting syndicated to Planet GNOME. Nor have I noticed conspicuous calls on Planet for this sort of 'rule' to address a looming threat posed by the inappropriately unfree.

"I certainly encourage the FSF to set up their very own planet, run it as they see fit, and exclude whomever and whatever they please: they can feel entirely at liberty to start with me. There seems, as well, to be a nice starting list of 'traitors' and 'enemies' available already, including the originator of Planet GNOME..."

In another post, Schlesinger continued in the same vein: "I have not noted 'promotion' of proprietary software on Planet GNOME. Can anyone point me to some instances of what's causing this great concern? For that matter, has there actually been any call on Planet GNOME for the sort of 'rules' for which Mr. Stallman seems to See A Great Need? Dave Neary's message seems to suggest that there simply aren't any, either way.

"For my part, I'd be as unhappy with a lot of postings 'promoting' _any_ company's products, whether they were 'proprietary' or 'free'. Commercial sales pitches are inappropriate on Planet, in my view, whether the software being peddled is 'free software' or not. I strongly doubt, however, that we need 'rules' to deal with it, since it appears to be a complete non-situation.

"The Planet isn't for marketing, it's for getting a window into the lives of other folks in the community, just as it says, and many of those lives involve working with both free and proprietary software. That's a simple fact, and to attempt to muzzle people on this basis is divisive to the community and destructive to the Planet.

"It's not for marketing a political agenda, either, in my view. The concern seems to be utterly unfounded, and the need for 'rules' is non-existent. I would certainly appreciate any efforts Mr. Stallman might care to make to communicate in a way that does away with the apparent need for third-party hermeneutics of his utterances.

The discussion has now tailed off somewhat.


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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.