GNOME Dev Responds to Criticism of Open Source Interface

Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

November 13, 2012

3 Min Read
GNOME Dev Responds to Criticism of Open Source Interface

One might reasonably assume that the controversy surrounding the design of GNOME 3, which was released well over a year ago, would have abated by now. But in one of the clearest signs that it hasn’t, a leading GNOME developer recently posted a strongly worded tirade against critics of the open source desktop environment — namely, the “crazies” and “yellow journalists.”

The developer, Federico Mena-Quintero, published his thoughts on his personal blog, not any official GNOME outlet. Still, as one of the cofounders of the GNOME project, he carries a lot of weight within the open source community.

We can’t quote many of Mena-Quintero’s comments here, since they’re peppered with words inappropriate for a family-friendly blog. But the gist of his post is that GNOME has faced undue criticism from two main groups: Pessimistic, hostile users (“The crazies. The slashdot hordes, the peanut gallery”) who will invariably complain no matter what developers do, and uninformed “yellow journalists” who are more interested in sensational claims than taking the time to understand why GNOME works the way it does.

Admittedly, the attack hits a little close to home, since we here on The VAR Guy started covering GNOME 3 and GNOME Shell as early as November 2009, back when they were still in early development. Our assessments haven’t always been glowing. In particular, one post I wrote in the spring of 2010 decried GNOME Shell on a number of counts.

But that wasn’t because we wanted flashy headlines. Back then, few people were thinking about GNOME Shell anyway, since it was still far from entering production use. And after speaking with lead GNOME Shell developer Jon McCann, I followed up my criticisms with an outline of his views and plans for addressing some of the issues raised.

So I am not sure whether this site falls into the yellow journalism category at which Mena-Quintero has directed so much anger. But what does seem clear to me is that his blame-the-user (and the press) mentality is not at all productive. In fact, I was a bit shocked to read such an acrimonious post from a leading figure of the GNOME community, which has traditionally been one of the backbones of the open source channel.

I was also surprised to see controversy over GNOME Shell erupting once again — especially from a developer. There was a lot of debate in the interface’s earlier days over usability and stability issues. But those criticisms have grown fewer and farther between since the shell was officially released in April 2011, and many leading Linux distributions began adopting GNOME 3 as their default desktop environment — with the exception, of course, of Ubuntu, which instead opted for Canonical’s homegrown Unity interface, a decision that sat poorly with many GNOME developers.

Now, Mena-Quintero’s comments are likely to reinvigorate debate over GNOME Shell and its future. That may not be good within the open source community, which is already suffering from a desktop environment identity crisis as not only GNOME and Unity but also KDE, Cinnamon, MATE, Xubuntu and a host of other interfaces vie for users’ attention.

For the record, I’m writing this from a PC running GNOME Shell, which I’ve used daily for about the last six months. Although it has its issues, I like it. Mena-Quintero’s rant notwithstanding, I hope GNOME developers will focus their energies going forward on responding to the valid criticisms of their software to make it even better, rather than firing off vitriol at the people using their product.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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