Miguel de Icaza: Can't We All Just Get Along? [A Response to Dennis Powell]
May 09, 2001, 12:00 (91 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Miguel De Icaza)
Re-Imagining Linux Platforms to Meet the Needs of Cloud Service Providers
By Miguel de Icaza
Like many of my friends and colleagues within the GNOME
community, I was disappointed and dismayed to read Dennis Powell's
recent piece on GNOME (".comment:
Wanna Invest in a Bridge...?"). Unfortunately, he presents a
very different picture of what the GNOME community in general, and
Ximian in particular, are trying to do. We are working to bring
Free Software/open source to people's desktops everywhere. To
achieve this, Nat and I created a company that would productize,
polish, and support GNOME, all to build a business that would help
make it the best desktop environment available.
As with anyone who has questions about what we are trying to
achieve or how we are doing things, I'd like to address and bring
clarity to some of the issues surrounding GNOME and Ximian in
Dennis column, especially as they regard the control of GNOME, the
role of my and other companies.
Contribution, Not Control
The only way that anyone can exert any influence over a Free
Software project is by contributing to it.
The more companies and individuals involved in the GNOME effort,
the more contributions the GNOME platform will receive.
There are various interests in the GNOME community: some people
are interested in the technology, some others in the freedom, some
others in the looks, some others in concrete applications. But we
all share the desire of making GNOME the best platform for users
and developers, because as we increase our user base and our
developer base, more software for the platform will exist, which
translates into an increase in the joy for those of us using
Of course, this is generally true about all free software
projects: the more parties involved, the more momentum the
project's code base accumulates. At Ximian, we see a major business
opportunity in deploying free software onto desktop systems.
Therefore it is in our interests to contribute massively to GNOME,
which we have done.
The various companies that contribute to GNOME (Code Factory,
Eazel, HP, Red Hat, Sun, SuSE, Ximian) do it in different
capacities, and in the areas that interest them most. But these
companies are only a fraction of the developer base of GNOME as it
was evidenced in the recently held European GNOME conference
there were more developers that had no "official" company
affiliation than people that were affiliated with a company at the
To make GNOME succeed we all realize that we have to work
together, and we do this by focusing on our areas of expertise or
the areas in which we have a direct involvement.
Off the top of my head, here is a list of the various activities
conducted by companies that contribute to GNOME:
- Art of Code: the libart canvas, Ghostscript, original
- Code Factory: the new HTML engine (*full* CSS2 support, Project
- Eazel: the Nautilus file manager, the GNOME VFS layer, the EEL
libraries, the high performance RSVG library and the Reef services
- Red Hat: they have worked extensively with GNOME, but these
days their focus is mostly on the Glib 2.0/Gtk+ 2.0 APIs which are
the foundation for the GNOME 2.0 platform. Of course, the guys at
Red Hat have been major contributors to the GNOME project
practically since its inception
- Sun: They have contributed to other open source projects, but
in the particular case of GNOME, they have so far helped with
usability studies, documentation, resources for the GNOME
foundation, GConf, and most importantly their Accessibility
- SuSE: Martin Baulig at SuSE, with the help of many individuals
and companies, is leading the current move towards the GNOME 2
- Ximian: historically many of our developers were previously
GNOME developers, so they have had an influence everywhere in
GNOME, but as a company, we focus on the Evolution groupware
client, the pre-packaged and easy-to-install Ximian GNOME
distribution, the Ximian Setup Tools and the Bonobo and Gnome Print
To illustrate how GNOME works, you need only remember that the
GNOME 2 planning session in GUADEC had about 150 people discussing
the various steps required to bring the next generation 2.0
platform to people.
Nat Friedman and I started Ximian about a year and a half ago, and
we are very proud of what weve accomplished thus far. Weve managed
to accumulate a user base of well over half a million, built an
extraordinarily talented development team, and attracted the
investment needed for future growth.
As with any growing business, Nat and I added more management
resources to our company to enable it to move to the next level.
These are things we had planned in advance; just like we hired
assistants, support staff, programmers and webmasters, each one
contributing with their specific domain of expertise. This has had
the added benefit of allowing Nat to spend more of his time
crafting our product strategy and managing its development.
We hired David Patrick because he would bring a lot of knowledge
that would help us create a profitable company, and because he very
clearly understood and believed in the increasingly important role
of free software in this industry. This in turn will allow us to
continue contributing toward making Free Software (open source)
succeed on customer desktops all over the world.
We are very excited that we managed to bring David Patrick on as
our new CEO; we see this as a very, very positive thing. The fact
that we were able to attract an extremely talented, experienced
executive team is a testament to the scope of the opportunity
presented in the open source desktop market. Our hope is that, with
the help of our expanded team, Ximian will be able to take GNOME
further than ever.
Source Code Queries
All of the source code developed by Ximian and included in the
recent release of Ximian GNOME 1.4 is available under the terms of
the GNU GPL. For any other components of the Ximian GNOME desktop
we distribute source rpms for every platform as well as debian
packages and source packages. This means that you can see exactly
what modifications we made to every package we ship and you can
build your own if you feel so inclined.
Any new pieces of code ("modules") that we have written are now
available on the GNOME CVS (they were checked shortly after Ximian
GNOME shipped) and are also available under the terms of the GNU
It is of paramount importance to ensure that our patches are
incorporated by upstream maintainers as quickly as possible. Of
course, making this happen takes work, and we've had to balance
that work with fixing the problems that came out of the initial
release of Ximian GNOME.
Just about all Linux distributions do their own out-of-band
development and ship patched software packages. No one ships a
vanilla Linus Torvalds kernel. And so we all work to get our
modifications and enhancements upstream; it just takes time.
Building for Everyone
Dennis states that GNOME 1.4 did not build for him. I'm sorry that
he had that experience given the success that thousands of others
have had; there must be something specific to his system that led
to these difficulties. The GNOME 1.4 team did everything within
their power to make sure that things like this did not happen; they
worked very hard to deliver quality.
It is important to note that the GNOME 1.4 release was created
in large part to bundle Nautilus. If we provide a way to run
Nautilus and GMC in Ximian, it is because we realize that the new
features in Nautilus consume more memory than the old file manager.
Given our interest in having people run GNOME on low-end machines,
we wanted to give users an option to choose the new file manager or
the old one. At Ximian we are mostly running Nautilus on our
The reality is, we received requests from people to continue to
make GMC. But we were not alone in making this decision: the GNOME
release committee chose to make GMC a part of GNOME 1.4 as well as
That's just the way GNOME works. No one unilaterally controls;
everyone universally contributes. And that contribution can be
code, design expertise, even angst.