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Friday, 20 May 2011 10:38

GNOME change proposal: much smoke, no fire

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What is it about GNOME that makes people rise up in arms whenever any change is proposed in the desktop environment?


Perhaps it's the fact that GNOME has undertaken meaningless change in the past, justifying it through the use of buzzwords, and ended up with a morass that really does not find favour with too many users.

Perhaps it's the fact that the GNOME developers still have the attitude that they are building things for themselves and the rest of the world can use it as it is or else take a walk.

Whatever it is, when there is talk of change in GNOME, people sit up and get agitated. But this time, someone has bitten off a lot more than they can chew, suffered from indigestion and then passed a lot of misinformation around.

Let's get specific. The OMG!Ubuntu site, a site for Ubuntu fanbois, published a little article a few days ago, titled "GNOME to drop support for BSD, Solaris, Unix?"

This was based on a post to Reddit. The OMG Ubuntu employee who wrote the post for the site, Joey Sneddon, did not bother to read the email that began the discussion that led to this amazing claim.

One email in a long thread, by one of the main GNOME Shell developers, William Jon McCann, was picked up and taken out of context, simply because it made nice, sensational headlines.

The email thread was begun by Lennart Pottering, a free software developer from Germany who, among other things, is the man behind the new sound server, PulseAudio.

Pottering suggested that systemd, a system and service manager for Linux of which he is the author and maintainer, be made an external dependency for GNOME. As systemd is  Linux-only, and GNOME is used by other UNIX clones apart from Linux, this would mean that replacements would have to be written for non-Linux systems in order that GNOME could be used on those systems.

This was just a suggestion that Pottering threw out and sought comments. A good way down the thread, McCann piped up, responding to a post in the thread by senior Debian developer Josselin Mouette. The part of Mouette's contribution that McCann responded to was: "I don't have anything against requiring systemd, since it is definitely the best init system out there currently, but the Linux dependency is an absolute no-no for us. Having optional Linux-only functionalities is OK; requiring Linux is not."


McCann's response was to suggest that Mouette's statement was true only for Debian, and not for GNOME; the future of the latter, he claimed, was as a Linux-based operating system.

He went on: "It is harmful to pretend that you are writing the OS core to work on any number of different kernels, user space subsystem combinations, and core libraries. That said, there may be value in defining an application development platform or SDK that exposes higher level, more consistent, and coherent API.  But that is a separate issue from how we write core GNOME components like the System Settings.

"It is free software and people are free to port GNOME to any other architecture or try to exchange kernels or whatever.  But that is silly for us to worry about.

"Kernels just aren't that interesting.  Linux isn't an OS.  Now it is our job to try to build one - finally.  Let's do it. I think the time has come for GNOME to embrace Linux a bit more boldly."

That's all it took for Slashdot, the venerable news aggregation site used by our American friends, to shout: "Proposal For Gnome To Become Linux-Only". What better way to pull the lemmings in - after all, Linux is much better as a drawcard than BSD, Solaris or Unix, or even all three!

Sure. One email is picked up - there were dozens of ideas floated in this thread and McCann's was far from being anything like a formal proposal - and a skewed headline creates a situation that never existed. Of course, the geniuses at Slashdot had drawn inspiration from OMGUbuntu.

But one Slashdot poster got it right and introduced a measure of commonsense. According to this individual, who posted under the moniker tvelocity, Pottering was talking about using systemd as a means to configure things like the data required for locales and timezones through an interface to dbus, a system for inter-process communication.

"What this proposal ACTUALLY means: (a) Non Linux platforms, or Linux distros not yet using systemd, would initially have grayed out certain configuration options in the control center, like locale for example. (b) These settings can be made available just by implementing a trivial dbus interface," tvelocity went on, in one of the very rare insightful posts on Slashdot. "Nothing of this dropping non-Linux OS support nonsense. Hope this clears up the nonsense somewhat."

Apart from the silly interpretation by Slashdot and OMG!Ubuntu, this tale also tells us a little about the way GNOME developers are perceived. However, there is no excuse for taking things out of context in this manner, even if it does involve GNOME.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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