A modest proposal re. Unity

10:13 am community, freesoftware, gnome

Having slept on it since writing my initial reactions yesterday I now have a proposal for Canonical & GNOME, which I hope the people concerned will consider.

Yesterday, I said “the best possible outcome I can see is that one of the two projects will become an obvious choice within a year or so”. So my proposal is this: let’s have a bake-off, Unity vs GNOME Shell, under the big tent of the GNOME project.

What needs to happen? Unity would have to agree to sync to the GNOME release schedule. Canonical will need to drop their copyright assignment requirement for Unity, and should ideally commit to using some of GNOME’s infrastructure. How much will need to be discussed. I’m sure that the Unity developers will want to continue to use Launchpad for bug tracking and bzr for source control, but perhaps the development mailing list could move to gnome.org, and the Unity website could be gnome.org/projects/unity or unity.gnome.org instead of unity.ubuntu.com?

GNOME will have to accept Launchpad as a platform for the development of GNOME software – there are potential integration issues, it is a headache using Launchpad & Bugzilla, co-ordinating Rosetta & upstream translation teams, and so on. But right now there is a general feeling that gnome.org is for “official” GNOME software, and Launchpad is for Ubuntu. We need to change that perception if we hope to be inclusive of Canonical and the greater Ubuntu developer community in GNOME. In fact, broadening the definition of what we call GNOME software was a key plank in the release team platform for 3.0 – resolving this question (and the equivalent question for projects hosted on Google Code and Sourceforge) will go a long way to growing the big tent. The GNOME project should also work to make it easy to switch from one shell to the other.

Developers who feel drawn to one philosophy or the other should work to make sure that their vision is the best it can be by September 2011. And at that point, presumably at the Desktop Summit in Berlin, GNOME, as a project, should choose one of the two, and put our full weight behind it.

This is potentially naïve on my part. Over the years, we have allowed a lot of animosity to build up between Canonical and Red Hat, among others. As a community, we’ve stood passively by while this has happened. Some will point to efforts to engage which were rebuffed. Others will point to a lack of real commitment to engage.

In situations like this, no-one is 100% right, no-one is 100% wrong. All we can do is look at the current situation, and ask ourselves: how do we get to where we want to go, from where we are? We have two choices – we can, like the Mayoman asked for directions to Galway by tourists, respond “If I was going to Galway I wouldn’t start from here at all”, or we can roll up our sleeves and try to make things a little better.

So – how about it? Is this a non-starter, or is it worth starting some conversations about it?

59 Responses

  1. Jef Spaleta Says:


    Yes indeed. The rules for revolution you pasted may in fact be a good model for GNOME moving forward. Something to consider as an internal project structuring meme. But I’m not sure having these rules would have really helped in this case.

    I think implicit in those rules you cited is an understanding that revolutionary ideas are meant to use the same development infrastructure as the evolutionary trunks..and to conform to the same contribution policy as trunk. Thus making it possible for a discussion about the technical merits of revolutionary ideas to form the basis of adoption as a new versioned trunk.

    I’m not sure how these specific rules map into a situation where vendors are under pressure from OEM partners get crap done and then to support it. But maybe that’s just not seeing something. Food for thought surely.


  2. links for 2010-10-28 « Wild Webmink Says:

    […] A modest proposal re. Unity Dave Neary's compromise proposal. Given it requires Canonical to give up copyright aggregation on code they clearly want to control at all costs, I doubt it will fly, but it's interesting to see someone making a proposal instead of delivering spin. (tags: Gnome Canonical Unity Linux FOSS Ubuntu OpenSource) […]

  3. John Drinkwater Says:

    I worry that a move to nuture launchpad use would set the ball rolling to be a bzr-ran, ld-admined Ubuntu project.
    IMO, it still needs some independence from any specific distro and/or distro vendor.

  4. Simon Says:

    @Andres – the biggest problem with turning Unity into an official Gnome project is that it directly competes with an existing Gnome project.

    Upstream Gnome, right now, are focused on the 3.0 release, running the new Shell. This is *not* a good point in the process for people to suddenly start calling for a change in direction, not with the project already a year behind schedule. If Canonical had these big ideas for a new UI, the time for discussing them with upstream was two or three years ago, not now.

  5. Dave Neary Says:

    @Simon “Upstream Gnome […] are focused on…” Can you give me a list of names, please? Personally, I would consider any Unity developers who agreed to work under the auspices of GNOME (as well as Ubuntu) part of “Upstream Gnome” (sic).

    I agree with the sentiment – the release team has asked for input, the shell design has come from several open face to face meetings & refinement on mailing lists during implementation. Distracting resources from that effort is not ideal, but it’s certainly a choice that one can make.


  6. Matěj Cepl Says:

    Just to mention my own issue which relates to all of this. There is still too much of “this bugs is on *.gnome.org” and “this bug is on *.launchpad.net” because the tools are not able to communicate with each other well. Hell, instances of bugzilla are not able to communicate with each other.

    If there is a bored Perl hacker, could he takes a look at bugs like https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=123130, https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/showdependencytree.cgi?id=231429&hide_resolved=1, and https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=123130 ?


  7. nq6 Says:

    The influence of Unity on the Gnome Shell

    The Gnome developers know that 14 million to 16 million will be using the Unity.Eles will not want your users lost in Unity. Then copied the layout. Below is a screen that shows this.


    Today we can see the force of the decisions of the developers of Ubuntu. What we have with the new Gnome Shell, a replica of the Unity. It seems Unity with a new theme.

  8. Ubuntu and the price of Unity | Says:

    […] Neary made a peace offering to the Ubuntu developers in the shape of a ‘modest proposal’ to “have a bake-off, Unity vs GNOME Shell, under the big tent of the GNOME project,” […]

  9. Ubuntu and the price of UnityNetbook | Netbook Says:

    […] made a peace offering to the Ubuntu developers in the shape of a ‘modest proposal’ to “have a bake-off, Unity vs GNOME Shell, under the big tent of the […]

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