Sunday, April 21, 2013

Welcome back Gnome 3 - maybe

Linux users have a choice of desktop environment. This is a good thing.

Is Gnome dead? I don't think so.

There are 5 or so major desktop environment I could name, some of which will improve, some will take a wrong turn, some will see a resurgence.

Windows 8 was a mistake? This debate is still raging. One argument is that major change in user interaction produces a period of 18 months of rage, followed by reluctant acceptance.
Personally I don't like Windows, but for those folks who feel that they have not got a choice, it will probably be tweaked, then eventually accepted.

Gnome 3 was a mistake? Well it led to Ubuntu ditching it as their default desktop, but hey maybe Ubuntu might have done that if they had hooked into KDE or Xfce, and those desktops then introduced major changes.
Result: Unity is now another alternative in the desktop stakes. Love it or hate it, another desktop choice may be a good thing folks.

Xfce - The Challenges:

Xfce 4.8 is a great desktop. In fact, both Xfce 4.6 and Xfce 4.8 have been (and currently are) my desktop of choice.

However being a preferred desktop one year, does not guarantee that you will be a given users favourite next year.

Some of this churn is natural, folks use your desktop, then a year or two later, they hanker after something else. Maybe they read a great blog article and wanted to try that desktop shown.

Some things are down to the choices the project makes also.

Gnome 3 bad choice - showing a leaning towards including Mono based apps and widgets in the wider Gnome desktop ecosystem. Was this an attempt to poison Gnome instigated from outside or by some misguided developers - who knows.

Gnome 3 major change - The 'everything is a widget' thinking had already been tried by KDE.

Here are my thoughts:
  • Gnome despite benefiting (during Gnome 2) from the resistance that KDE 'everything is a widget' changes created, appear to have believed that their own planned changes would meet with less resistance.
  • Gnome failed to appreciate the scale of the task in moving to this new model, and did not put enough focus on implementation tasks, such as easing migration, and some aspects of what the user considers 'core functionality' - settings, controls, whatever.
Will Xfce 5 be any different?

Probably not. Despite the very visible lessons in the past 10 years provided by KDE and now by Gnome, it seems that many desktop environments just cannot help losing their way.

And this is why I will probably switch back to Gnome once Gnome 3.8 is available in Debian Stable.
If Xfce does not disappear up its own backside, then it might not be a clear cut decision, but those are my thoughts today.

Xfce and new developers - good and bad:

Xfce needs to grow beyond the two or three core developers who, I suspect, currently do the majority of the work.

However this is a double edged sword.

Gnome and the Mono debacle was probably the results of new developers coming onboard, and a lack of clarity around 'free software' ethos.

( The free software battle has moved beyond individual software programs, and now consideration must be given to ecosystems, services, and add ons also. Does making a C sharp based add on to a free desktop make it more free or less free - you decide. )

  • Will Xfce have its own Mono moment? Maybe
  • Will Xfce disappear up its own backside regarding fonts, at the expense of flexibility in window manager settings and the basics - Probably.
  • Will proprietary software exponents attempt to influence the choices of the Xfce project against a free software ethos. If Xfce becomes big enough, almost certainly.
But it is not all doom, these are just some of the challenges.
Xfce might come through them all unscathed.

A good start for the Xfce project might be to think about the dogfood principle.
Are the new developers on the project using Xfce themselves actively on their own daily desktop?

If not why not - do they not think it is good enough? or are they just on your project as a temporary CV enhancing placement? Do they have motives which you should take the time to understand more clearly - what gives?

Have developers ever joined a project with the express intention of changing its direction or worse to severely weaken it? Almost certainly.

( The free software ecosystem has and continues to be seen as a potential threat to multi-billion dollar corporates. There are, I am sure, a small number of developers for hire, who might just be willing to act as agents in damaging free software )

Do the new developers want to help the project, but also help keep the code free to modify, for anybody except patent aggressors?

Gnome 3.8 and why it will probably be my choice in Debian 8 Jessie:

Bending the Nietzsche phrase a lot...

"What does not kill you, might visit your neighbour or competitor next"

Gnome 3 has had a difficult birth, but my feeling is, that it has now overcome two major challenges, and it will gain traction.
( especially in 2015 when 3.8 is in Debian stable. )

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