Linked by Oscar Boykin on Wed 25th Feb 2004 08:59 UTC
X11, Window Managers For the past year, there has been a slow and steady stream of news events regarding XFree86, X11, or new X server implementations. To those not paying close attention (and even those who are), the meaning of some of these events may not be clear. In this brief article, I attempt to share my impression on what the changes mean for users of free software on the desktop. It appears that XFree86 is in some turmoil, and it may leave some to infer that free desktop systems will suffer.
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Grokking the situation...
by Karl on Wed 25th Feb 2004 15:36 UTC

I am going to go ahead and take the plunge and explain what I have grokked concerning the new XFree86 licensing issue.

David Dawes is pissed. He is pissed at Keith Packard. He is is pissed at other ex-XFree86 developers. He is pissed off at Redhat and very pissed off at

Whether or not he has a right to be pissed is another question- a question which none of us can suffciently answer. But this license change is David Dawes' payback- his revenge on the renegade rebellion in the X Windows community which started almost exactly a year ago.

When Keith Packard got kicked tensions which had been around for a long time surfaced. There was a lot of talk about forking XFree86. The folks at and totally downplayed this talk- attempting to soothe now open wounds. released a) Keith Packards new Xserver and b) their very own release of xlibs. This got Dawes very, very pissed. (rhetoric) just who do these guys think they are? now they have the chutzpah to claim that they themselves are now responsible for XFree86.....

In the meantime Dawes acts as if there is nothing wrong with his new license-'if anything needs to be changed its the GPL....'. He is being so unbelievably dishonest. He knows damn well that his changes cause problems with nearly every program which is linked against the xlibs-which is almost everything you see on your X Windows display.

But Dawes failed to grasp what was really going on. He failed to understand that people were not mad at him and XFree86 about the slow pace of development-they were upset because the XFree86 core-group(which no longer exists) was engaging in heavy-handed politics(outsting outstanding contributors) and that a new wlesspring of demand for genuine community participation had arisen which confronted and challenged the old tradition which had dominated XFree86 for years- that they were alone, that no one helped them, that everyone complained but did nothing- that they had to go their own way because no one really supported them.

Now Dawes has his revenge. He simply could not see the demand for a community- the demand from those who had hitherto played only a trivial role in the development process saying that they wanted to see things happen now. Pent-up desire, demand to see changes. Dawes could have endorsed this, he chose to dis it. OF course Dawes is not alone in this-but he is the only one left after the core-group dissolved at whom one can direct their anger. Dawes used to be the more level-headed of the core-group, far mor fair than some of the other members.

Whether you can see the problems with the new license or not is not the issue. The license issue is a thing of "perception"- in more ways than one. The Linux distributors could "sense" that something wasn't right, that something was changing. Now the Linux community and Theo from OpenBSD have made it clear-"NO" to the new license. If they all position themselves saying the new license is "GPL incompatible" the new license *is* incompatible- ie. no one will use or accept the new license. The responsible persons at and have gone out of their way to avoid a fork-yet their actions are, in the eyes of Dawes and others at XFree86, a fork in every sense of the word, except for the name.

The new realities call for new structures and new roles. XFree86 is a staunchly conservative organization-which for the most part has been a Good Thing(TM)-it has given us a reliable, stable and free X Windows implementation for many years. Change is in the air and XFree86 has found itself incapable of dealing with the new situation.

Luckily the folks at are really committed to the future of X-they know that X is not simply a Linux thing, and not simply an x86 thing-they respect and endorse the standards, the protocol, and in so doing are remaining loyal to that which XFree86 has stood for. has only stepped forward due to the fact that XFree86 has been unwilling to really open up it's development process. If XFree86 would have simply reliquished it's heavy-handed control of development this whole issue would have never arisen.

The license issue is only making apparent what is and has been going on behind the scenes. Re-Changing the license back to its former state, or changing the GPL will not solve these issues. If XFree86 chose to re-change(ie.revert back) to their original license it would signal a concilliatory move-it would be a gesture of good will. But wounds have already taken place. There is need for much healing. Trust has been violated.

I am not saying that Dawes is the only or main culprit here. Many ego's have been involved in this mess. Remeber it always takes two to tango- their are legitimate points of view from all sides involved. As it stands XFree86 has backed itself into a corner and is now becoming the outsider. If they continue this path they will become irrelevant.

I wish all the parties involved could just talk things out and agree to new structures and new roles. I doubt this is going to happen- the attitude now in circulation is- "fine- fuck you, if you are going to act this way -well we don't need you". This is horribly divisive-it is tearing the threads which hold *the* community together apart. Right now the main battle is about the identity of this- *the* community.
Such situations can galvanize new identities-it can also lead to splintered groups working against each other. Only time will tell how things will develop....