GNOME and Novell: The FUD Stops Here

As a result of some confusion (and sadly, some very active, ugly and offensive muck-raking) in various sections of the community recently, I thought it might be interesting to do a review of GNOME’s relationship with Novell and some of the people involved in that relationship.

Due to my position as a director of the GNOME Foundation, it’s important to point out that this post represents my personal views, not those of the Foundation.

Novell and the GNOME Foundation

Novell is a member of the GNOME Foundation Advisory Board, along with most of the other companies that play a role in the GNOME community (see the ‘sponsors’ section on the front page of the GNOME Foundation website).

Like the GNOME Foundation itself, the GNOME Foundation Advisory Board does not define the technical goals of the project. Additionally, it does not have an executive role in the operation of the Foundation.

As it says on the box, the Advisory Board exists purely to serve an advisory function to keep the GNOME Foundation directors in touch with our corporate (be they commercial or non-profit) contributors.

The GNOME Foundation seeks to be a conduit between the commercial interests in GNOME and the broader community, and the Advisory Board plays a crucial role in this mission.

Membership of the Advisory Board involves an annual financial contribution to the GNOME Foundation of USD$10,000 for companies of Novell’s size.

Aside from sponsorship of GNOME events such as GUADEC, Novell’s (and previously, Ximian’s) financial contribution has not changed since they were a founding member of the GNOME Foundation.

The only positive irregularity in their financial contribution was in 2003-2004 when Novell sponsored an experimental set of GNOME “desktop integration” bounties run by the GNOME Foundation. For the conspiracy theorists out there, do note that this was before OOXML and before Novell’s relationship with Microsoft. :-)

There are no Novell employees among the 2007 team of GNOME Foundation directors, and no Novell employees standing for the 2008 term.

Novell representatives have been absent without regrets for every GNOME Foundation Advisory Board conference call held this year, though JP Rosevar (desktop team lead at Novell) did participate in the face-to-face Advisory Board meeting at GUADEC.

The GNOME Foundation greatly appreciates Novell’s financial contributions in the form of Advisory Board fees and sponsorship of events, and enjoys Novell’s participation in the Advisory Board when they are active… I’m sure a Novell representative will be present at next Friday’s Advisory Board conference call!

Juuuuuuust to make sure this point is totally clear, I’ll reiterate that Novell’s financial contribution does not provide them with any technical or organisational influence over the GNOME Foundation or the GNOME community in general. Got it? Good. Let’s move on! :-)

Novell contributions to GNOME

Novell continues to contribute to the GNOME project in many ways, including maintainership of software like Evolution and the Control Center, contributions to Network Manager, making OpenOffice.org integrate nicely with GNOME, all of the Mono-based applications such as Tomboy, F-Spot, Banshee and Beagle, bug fixing and performance work, and plenty of other stuff. They’re active upstream, quietly doing “the usual work” all the time.

Sadly, many of the bright lights of the Novell desktop team — such as Jon, Rob, Joe and others — have moved on to other companies, often to positions that don’t involve GNOME development.

This is a huge loss to our community, and I do think that their feelings of disenfranchisement among their “home” community have directly contributed to this.

It seems to be that if you work for Novell, no matter what role or opinion you hold or how irrelevant you are to the strategic choices of the company, you’re going to suffer a lot of crap for them anyway. I think that’s a terribly unfortunate state of affairs for the FLOSS community, but I understand why it happens.

Like any company/community relationship, there are ups and downs. But in general, the GNOME community has a long-standing positive relationship with contributors within Novell, and we love working with them. They hack on a whole bunch of cool things and make GNOME better in the process. Whatever our disagreements, we agree on the core values and vision of GNOME: Software Freedom is not just for geeks!

Miguel and GNOME

Miguel does not play an active role in the GNOME community, and hasn’t done so for quite some time now. He was a director of the Foundation for the last time in 2005.

Miguel is still a member of the GNOME Foundation, as our members have the option to continue their membership regardless of their current activity in the project.

We think this is an important way to show our appreciation for past contributors, and keep them around to encourage their return or enjoy the benefit of their wisdom should they choose to bestow it. A good example of this would be Alan Cox smacking me around at every opportunity. :-)

Interestingly, Miguel was actually the President of the GNOME Foundation until only a few weeks ago, but we have been asking him for years to send a resignation letter, and recently nailed down a plan to finally get his resignation and appoint the President and Vice-President from the directors. As of the last Foundation Board meeting, that process is complete.

It’s important to point out that during this time, the Foundation Chairman was capably performing the role of President, and Miguel was not participating or interacting in GNOME Foundation activities or administration at all.

Despite his inactivity in the project, Miguel is often the source of some controversy among GNOME contributors. My reading of the project suggests that few of Miguel’s opinions are shared by the majority of active GNOME contributors, particularly those regarding Mono, OOXML, Moonlight and the Novell/Microsoft relationship.

Update: Note that I’m sure Miguel regards his work on Mono and the excellent GNOME bindings for it as a contribution to GNOME — certainly the platform has resulted in a bunch of great GNOME-based applications. However, as a result of the walls of controversy between GNOME and Mono (which I cover in more detail below), I’m not sure a broad majority of the project would see Miguel’s work on Mono in this light. This is just my reading of the community though, and I know there is a good base of Mono fans among GNOME developers. I’m really trying to be sensitive to both sides of the issue here, but I might have annoyed both audiences in the process. Sorry. :-)

In some cases, Miguel is seen as an oddity or object of amusement, who has lost pretty much all of his influence among GNOME contributors, new or old. Indeed, as far back as 2002, Miguel did not receive enough support in the GNOME Foundation election to be among the top five vote recipients.

(I’m sorry if this seems blunt, but I think it clearly demonstrates Miguel’s long-term waning influence on the GNOME project in the face of FUD and misinformation about his intent and involvement. Miguel shouldn’t be held responsible for GNOME, and GNOME shouldn’t be held responsible for Miguel.)

But there is something that will never change among GNOME developers: Miguel is still highly respected for founding GNOME, and his massive early contributions. He had the vision and energy to create a truly Free desktop environment under trying circumstances, and although he is no longer involved, and popular opinion about him has changed, he will always have our utmost appreciation and respect for creating the project we love: GNOME.

Talking with Nat

I sat down with Nat Friedman at GUADEC in order to talk about a few things that were on my mind regarding Novell and GNOME. I had a very clear three-point agenda that I wanted to go through:

  1. The relationship and agreement with Microsoft.
  2. Novell’s approach to feature development and ‘code dumping’.
  3. GNOME and Mono.

We didn’t end up talking about the first two points, because Nat was extremely focused on the Mono issue, and whichever way I tried to lead him through my thought narrative, it would quickly come back to Mono.

I don’t really fault him for this: It was clearly his number one concern.

One of the things he described was the “bunker mentality” of some of the GNOME hackers in Novell — the controversy about Mono and the constant questioning of their motives was having a huge impact on their passion for contributing to the project.

Other members of the team, even those not working on Mono related stuff, were feeling the same thing. They felt as if they were constantly under attack, and quite legitimately so.

I imagine some folks outside the GNOME project won’t feel too much sympathy here, but those Novell hackers are our friends and team-mates, no matter what our disagreements might be with their management!

We didn’t get to talk about the other stuff (and I’d love to catch up again to do so, I haven’t seen him for ages), but I thought Nat’s concerns about how Novell’s hackers feel was an important perspective to include in this document.

Sometimes, it’s easy for us all to forget that there are people behind the email addresses, behind the nicks, and behind the company names.

GNOME and Mono

I’ve mentioned this a little bit here, but I’m going to leave the bulk of my commentary about GNOME and Mono for another post.

Questions?

The comments are open, and I’ll happily answer any questions about GNOME, the GNOME Foundation, and our relationship with Novell. Perhaps some Novell folks will contribute some other perspectives too.

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30 Responses to GNOME and Novell: The FUD Stops Here

  1. Jurjen Stellingwerff says:

    Thanks for this post.. it was clear and thoughtful.

    Hope people will understand that everybody that contributes to our open source projects should have our thanks even when we disagree on other things.

  2. pacho says:

    Great post!

    Thanks a lot

  3. troll says:

    Thanks for the sane post, hopefully it will clean the air a little bit. Personally I have been irritated of all the FUD made by open source zealots for a long time already. It is a good thing to point it out that it is not any better.

  4. anon says:

    Sounds like GNOME is distancing itself from Novell & Miguel. But of course what really matters is, is GNOME distancing itself from mono?

    I’m a GNOME-novice, but it seems like with the (sort of) replacement of Beagle with Tracker, and with most people seeming to prefer non-mono applications over mono applications (for music playing, etc.), is mono diminishing. Microsoft still barely acknowledges the project, even though i wouldn’t even use .NET if it were not for mono.

    What about GNOME and java, also, now that java is open source?
    It would be great to have a jvm “server” running in gnome so that java apps start up instantly and can share resources. See for example: http://groups.google.com/group/jvm-languages/browse_frm/thread/25b09ab88a54b519

    It would be great to be able to use netbeans and/or eclipse to develop gnome applications.

  5. me says:

    We are free software zealots!

    Thank you.

  6. jonathan says:

    What about the GNOME Foundation and OOXML? You’ve made a reference to OOXML, and there’s been some rumours/stories recently that GNOME backs OOXML. Is this true, and if so, what are GNOME’s plans with OOXML, and how will this affect GNOME applications and integration with the OASIS document standards?

  7. manu says:

    Instead of Java or Mono I would clearly vote for Vala :)

    (And Java as my second choice for the sake of portability, but what is a Java-GTK-app worth? Then I could directly code C/Vala+GTK!)

  8. jdub says:

    jonathan, check out the statement we released about it all. It’s not as bad as the FUDsters would have you believe. It’s controversial, but I’m confident we’ve done something useful, for good reasons. We certainly don’t support or endorse OOXML as an ISO standard.

  9. Alexander Shopov says:

    Thank you very, VERY much for your post.

    As the community is getting larger, there seems to be increasing polarization. I have gone through such a polarization in the Bulgarian Free/Open source community.

    It was counterproductive and chased quite a lot of people away.

    It hurt me personally as well.

    In hindsight – as I am a little bit older, and probably a tiny, little bit wiser – we should not have taken ourselves so seriously.

    Humour and irony helps a lot.

    It helps to know that it is not the so called zealots that do most of the work. They can be dealt easily – the same way as stand up comedians deal with hecklers. Direct verbal abuse sometimes helps and I am quick to use it.

    In hindsight – I think I have made the whole circle – I have been a zealot and have been attacked by zealots for being a softie.

    I have pushed people away from FOSS with zealotry and have taken people back by being a softie.

    I have hacked around rules, social ties and friendships.

    But having made my decisions and having lived my path – it is so funny that I can literally know what people from every position think – and they do not know what I think. And I can make fun of them, can work with them, ease the troubled waters and crack a joke that makes people laugh. And keep people on the edge.

    Free software is great. ;-)

    But one should always remember that loving it is not a carte-blache to make others unhappy.

    Kind regards:

    al_shopov

  10. Johan says:

    Speaking of Nat Friedman, what does he do nowadays? I haven’t seen any life signs from him in ages.

  11. fred says:

    I agree the hackers are getting knocked around for some stupid management decesions, but as a GNOME user I do not want anything related to Mcirosoft to be part of GNOME by default. If someone wants to apt-get mono stuff that is up to them. The Foundation should not allow there named to be associated with OOXML for any reason. I have used Novell products in the past, but have not used any of there products since there deal with Microsoft and have been actively converting sites using there products to another distro. Novell made their choice even though they knew in advance the community would not approve, now they will reap what they have sowed.

  12. John Pugh says:

    This was a decent post. You shared your view and, while unnecessary, you did distance yourself from that view surprisingly. What shocking is that you completely walked around the FUD and even possibly created more.

    The community is dividing itself, why? Take a look at how communities work. One person starts something, enrolls others in his endeavor and the community grows until someone with unendowed leadership ability forks it to their desire. This is how the gnome foundation has progressed and how most projects in the GNU Linux distribution progress. The kernel is different because it is NOT community driven. It is held closely by one person who holds the trademark and the copyright. Consider that this is normal human behavior.

    What’s interesting is “activists” such as Fred. Fred is like PETA. He has an opinion and forces that opinion on everyone he possibly can. Fred does not understand the true meaning behind the business deal that was created by Novell and Microsoft and would be quite surprised to see the benefit that the open source community benefits from the opportunities created. If Fred open his closed mind he could ride the coat tails of the flood of opportunity created and truly further open source. Instead, Fred chooses to keep his mind closed and counter-intuitively shun the opportunities the open source community has been given. This is unfortunate.

    Nat has distanced himself from the rhetoric of the community activists such as Fred and does not desire to be brought into a discussion that is really not relevant to his meaning of life. His meaning of life is to make a Linux Desktop and GNOME is what he truly believes in (ok…so I’m putting words in his mouth).

    Novell really wants community acceptance. They go to great lengths to be a community supporter. It’s really sad to see the Freds of the world put Novell down for trying to satisfy everyone. Novell is obligated to it’s shareholders only, but they do truly care for the OSS community at large and are trying very hard to get the word out about OSS and support the community that largely does not support their efforts.

  13. she says:

    Seriously, you try to tell to people that this is all coincidence, that Novell did not plan ahead to make a strategic alliance with Microsoft?

    Its so bad what is going on in Gnome right now that I think if Gnome would actually be a key compon of Linux, many people would consider stopping using it.
    But of course its not, its still fine to use something else than Gnome, but this is no way to combat dissenting opinions.

    Miguel showed his face when he lobbied in favour of Microsoft’s superb standard.

    Its clear what the future direction of Gnome will be – MS GNOME!
    (Will this post get censored? Lets see…)

  14. jdub says:

    she: See the comments policy linked from the front page. I don’t censor posts just because I disagree them. Seriously, wait until you get a load of the next post. That’s sure to have some doozies.

  15. stolennomenclature says:

    The Mono (Microsoft) association with Gnome seems very dangerous to me for a free software project. Microsoft is well known for at first getting into bed with and then later screwing its business partners. If it can do that to other proproetary businesses, how much more will it do so to its idealogical oposite – free software and open source. To me this association is going to sooner or later bite the free software movement in the bum. Or are we supposed to believe that Microsoft has reformed? (Lol).

    Also I can see no real benefits in Mono anyway. Its only really the business community and their large in house projects that use Microsofts Net framework and might be interested in Mono. Why should the free software movement be so interested in competing with Microsoft in the corporate arena? Let them carry on paying for and using Microsoft. In the meantime free software developers could develop their own non-Net compatible frameworks. The .Net idea might be good but there is no absolute need to be compatible. KDE and Gnome both use ideas and concepts from the Windows GUI, but they are not Windows api compatible.

    I think the farther away from propreitary products the free software movement remains the better for all concerned. Even Microsoft would agree with that I think.

  16. Miguel Branco says:

    Well, you might now have been FUD’ed without a reason, but you GNOME spread FUD on another project for your own benefit once as well . I say this because you still use arrogant and miserable expressions like the “TRULY free desktop” in a clear allusion to an historical position of GNOME against KDE. Don’t expect fair play playing this way.

  17. Julio Biason says:

    @Miguel Branco: I noticed such fights. I’m a GNOME user since 1.x (geez, it’s been so long that I can remember the minor version) and I remember the fights between KDE and GNOME back then. The only point that took me a long time to see is that the fight was between USERS and not DEVELOPERS. The gnome-devel-list maillist, used by GNOME developers, was also used by KDE developers and there was a lot of information and opinion exchange there. And they were always nice and informative.

  18. jdub says:

    Miguel Branco, it was very much a reference to what Miguel did in that historical context. I don’t raise it as a matter of FUD towards KDE. That issue is well over and done with.

  19. chip says:

    In the “Novell Contributions to Gnome” section:
    You are sad that developers left Novell, whereas I am happy that they elected to leave. The ones that left have principles and ethics. The folks who stayed have bought into the Novell management vision. Microsoft, Mono, patents, ….

  20. Sid Boyce says:

    Any deal with Microsoft has to be suspect, their track record stands for all to see. I haven’t seen any Microsoft graffiti on the the wall except “WE HATE OPEN SOURCE” and that’s the one and only comment from them I take with sincerity.

  21. José Tiburcio Ribeiro Netto says:

    Great post Jeff!

    It has made many people’s vision about GNOME clear…

  22. Janne says:

    My main concern with mono is the opposite: the project seems clearly all about distancing itself from Gnome as a platform in favour of Silverlight et. al. I used Mono and C# with some enthusiasm for a while, but I want to use it for Gnome and Linux development. And as all the excitement in the mono project has shifted to making it a platform for Windows programming, not Linux or Gnome, I’ve pretty much abandoned it as a development platform.

  23. Scott says:

    It saddens me greatly to watch the community, as communities often do, divide and hold so tightly to their opinions (and that’s all that fuels most of the most passionate debates and flames – little fact comes in to play) that they ensure the on-going dominance of the non-community alternative.

    Been there, saw that, know how the story ends. Anyone remember desktop Unix? CDE vs Openlook vs Motif? Windows won.

    And for those who believe working with MS can only end one way, take a closer look at history. MS got where they are by making sure their OS worked with the important other environments customers had and set the stage for taking share from Unix, NetWare and other then-dominant OSes. To take share back from them requires the same level of interoperability and surround then out-do them approach. Total separation is a recipe for, well, total separation, not share gain. It is fine if the community wants to keep their software just for themselves but the commercial entities that employ certain members of the community are in this for commercial gain and that means grabbing share and selling services and other products into a growing customer base. Sorry if that isn’t the movie some want to watch but, for these companies, this is business. Different companies approach this different ways. Novell knows better than most how a competitor can first be compatible with you then take your share. They’ve boldly started down a path that is at once good for customers and that sets in motion a method for taking share from MS. They’ve not set down a path that deliberately aims to give MS leverage against Linux and / or FOSS.

    Some think they’re naive and have set themselves and the community up unknowingly. That’s just not the case. They may or may not succeed but their eyes are open, they’ve taken extra measures to protect Linux and the community along the way and they are growing use of Linux in the market.

  24. james lamm says:

    The one thing I would add is that it seems to me, that at one time
    Miguel stated that the justice dept. should leave Micr. alone. This came
    right at the trial. This was also at a time when Micr. was making public
    statements about helping Mono. I think one has to take what everybody
    says with a grain of salt. There is very little true charity and we all have to
    be on guard that leaders might want to take a project in a direction that
    profits them.

    I am surprised
    from the posts above that mono is now focusing on windows. What is the
    good of that? Can’t you just run .net on windows?

  25. Miguel Branco says:

    jdub <>

    So end with that sort of expressions I refer to so that matter can be a thing of the past and not of the present. I feel irritated as a KDE user (and tranlator) . You in GNOME tend to picture yourselves as some some sort of saivoirs of freedom and the only people to be truly open source complainant. Just to remember, you accept LGPL’ed code while KDE doesn’t and it’s entirely GPL, so who is more truly open source?.

  26. Casper says:

    Miguel is a pragmatist more than a FSF zealot, which has earned him his share of enemies. In fact, there have been so much FUD lately on various forums, proving that software religion can divide the community and undermine everything else, even technical aspects – which is really what we should be interested in.
    Miguel read the ECMA specs and saw how much better it was than Java and created Mono. Thus it’s hardly surprising he would come to a similar offset conclusion reading the ODF/OOXML specs, clearly (to me anyway) OOXML handles embedded content and vectoring better than ODF. My hat off to Miguel for standing up to his beliefs in spite of being badmouthed on blogs, excluded from committees etc. I wish the open source world had more people like him, do’ers instead of preachers. If that was the case Microsoft truly had reason to worry.

  27. pinky says:

    @Janne:

    I agree with your opinion about Mono. As Mono come out i was really excited, tried it and liked it. But today it seems like Mono has shifted from GNU/Linux to Windows.

    Maybe it’s a bit superficial but i just have to look at Mono release notes. In the early days you could read about improvement in the GNOME/GTK+ field today you read only about Window-Forms, Moonlight,…

    I’m not interested in this stuff. What about Gtk# and other GNOME technology and the improvements in this area from one Mono release to another?

    The same i see by monodevelop. They shoud first create a first class GNOME-IDE and than they can try to add windows-technology. But they waste their time with Window-Form things etc.

    Mono started as a development environment for GNU/Linux with an Windows-compatibility-stack today it looks more like a development environment for Windows with an GNOME compatibility stack. Sad.

  28. Casper says:

    @Pinky:

    Miguel’s stated goal is to attract Windows programmers over to Linux and with only 18 payed developers its understandable why they would have to pick their battles with care. As far as I know, there is no plan to implement WPF and also there’s not even a MonoDevelop version available for Windows.

    In any event, nothing is stopping you from participating, I suspect it all boils down to resources. Given the results of the just released MonoDevelop survey, it appears your request of GTK# etc. is being heard: http://www.monodevelop.com/Survey_Results_2007

  29. alphager says:

    It all is a question of trust.

    Novell has made a deal with Microsoft. The official version of that deal is just a grant of patents and a commitment to interoperability.
    The result is that Novell (and thus Novell-employed people) can use Microsoft patents without fear. However, the deal only extends to Novell an it’s customers, not the community as a whole.

    Do i think that Microsoft has good intentions towards Free Software? No.
    Can I trust that Microsoft will honor their agreement? No, considering the infamous Spyglass-deal i have to assume that Microsoft will screw the community at the first chance it gets.

    Do i trust the Novell-Management to have the wellbeing of the community in mind? No, their only obligations are to the stockholders, and i am sure that it is only a question of money for them to hurt the community.

    So, do i trust Novell that their strategy is good for the community? No, their strategy is about money.

    Do i trust the Novell-employees to keep their contributions free of legal time-bombs? I cannot trust them, as i do not know them. Their bunker-mentality does not help in this way.

    Miguels doesn’t help either. It’s one thing to have a favorable opinion about Microsoft, .NET and OOXML. It’s another thing to say that all criticism is irrelevant, unjustified and dumb. The distance between GNOME and Miguel cannot be too long at this point. Keeping Miguel near GNOME does damage the project’s image.

    Regarding Mono: As long as Microsofts Chairman Steve Ballmer continues to say that the supreme goal of his reign is the destruction and or burial of the “cancer” that is Free Software, i cannot condone the usage of anything even remotely connected to Microsoft. Their goal is to destroy us; the patent-agreement is not there to benefit us.

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