Over the weekend, there has been a bit of a ruffling of the feathers over in the GNOME camp. It started with complaints received about the content on Planet GNOME, and ended with people proposing and organising a vote to split GNOME from the GNU Project.
The entire situation started when Lucas Rocha sent an email to the GNOME Foundation mailing list, stating that the Foundation had received complaints about some of the posts on Planet GNOME containing inappropriate content – iTWire claims this post by De Icaza was the catalyst. A legitimate discussion ensued about whether or not there should be rules concerning posting on PGO, and about the possibility of sending annual reminders to people listed on PGO that they can remove themselves from the planet if they want to.
Somewhere along the line, Richard Stallman weighed in, and this is when things got a little nastier. RMS argued that posts promoting non-Fee software should not appear on PGO, a position Philip Van Hoof sharply disagreed with.
“The people who work at VmWare also very often posted (and still post) about their work and appear on Planet GNOME. There’s nothing wrong with that. Same goes for Nokia and many other companies involved,” Hoof argues, “Forbidding those contributors to talk about their work goes directly and philosophically against the ‘Planet GNOME is a window into the world, work and lives of GNOME hackers and contributors’ slogan of the project.”
RMS replied, stating that GNOME should not provide a platform for the promotion of non-Free software. “They should not [talk about VMware], unless VmWare becomes free software. GNOME should not provide proprietary software developers with a platform to present non-free software as a good or legitimate thing,” he states, “Perhaps the statement of Planet GNOME’s philosophy should be interpreted differently. It should not invite people to talk about their proprietary software projects just because they are also GNOME contributors.”
The executive director of the GNOME Foundation, Stormy Peters, thought this was ridiculous. “Planet GNOME is about people and we display everyone’s full blog feed as it represents them,” she writes, “There are people that work on proprietary software as well as GNOME and that’s who they are. I don’t think we should reject people because they don’t agree with us 100% of the time.”
RMS replied to Peters, arguing that “GNOME is part of the GNU Project, and it ought to support the free software movement. The most minimal support for the free software movement is to refrain from going directly against it; that is, to avoid presenting proprietary software as legitimate.”
And that’s when the bomb was dropped: Maybe GNOME needs to re-evaluate its membership of the GNU Project. Philip van Hoof was the one to propose such a vote. “You [RMS], as one of the key FSF people, appear to be keen on enforcing a
strict policy on how GNU’s member-projects should behave,” Van Hoof writes, “So I propose to have a vote on GNOME’s membership to the GNU project.”
Dave Neary warns for the possible repercussions such a vote could have for the GNOME project. “Such a vote, whatever the outcome, would have little effect on the GNOME project. The debate during the vote could cause a lot of harm & discord for the GNOME community,” he writes.
Van Hoof agreed with Neary, but argues that the fear of possible repercussions is not a reason not to hold such a vote. “We cannot be blind when the leader of the Free Software Foundation is requesting that the ‘minimal’ thing GNOME should do, is to support it by, and I quote, ‘avoiding presenting proprietary software as legitimate’,” van Hoof explains, “I fully understand that ignoring Richard’s request is the easy way. But his request cannot be ignored any longer. He really wants this as a ‘minimal’ commitment from GNOME. No matter what feels good for us. We’ve been ignoring this for too long.”
When I grow up…
At some point, movements and organisations need to grow up. In the beginning, movements can afford to be radical, looking for boundaries, and preferably crossing them. This is the way to get noticed, to gain a foothold, to expand your sphere of influence. At some point, however, radicalism will only hold a movement back, instead of propelling it forward.
And here lies the crux of the problem. Free and open source software is no longer new or radical. I can pretty much guarantee you that everyone in your circle of friends and family is using Free or open source software – maybe they have an iPhone, they could be using Firefox, a web application built on top of F/OSS, or they have a router with embedded Linux on it. Free and open source software is one of the big success stories of the technology industry.
Free and open source software has grown up. It no longer needs radicalism and dogmas. It needs to leave all that behind, old leaders need to make way for new ones. It has become quite clear over the past few years that a lot of people working within the F/OSS community no longer like or care about RMS – heck, they may even dislike him thoroughly. We all respect his immense contributions to the technology industry, but that doesn’t grant him a get-out-of-jail free card.
This GNOME issue is about that. Many within the GNOME project believe that in order for the platform to survive and move forward, it needs to interoperate with proprietary software, whether they personally would use such software or not. This is a new reality that RMS doesn’t seem to understand; he’s still holding on to the days of yore when it was “us vs. them”, and he’s trying to impose this outdated way of thinking on the FSF and the GNU Project and its members – like GNOME.
The FSF needs to change. It needs to face the new reality, i.e., one wherein most people (developers) within the F/OSS community recognise the necessity for interoperability and cooperation with established proprietary software vendors. F/OSS is no longer developer-centric – it has become user-centric. It seems like RMS is oblivious to this change in perspective.
As such, I think it is a very good idea for the GNOME project to move away from the GNU Project. It is a symbolic move at most, but it would send a much-needed clear signal to RMS and the FSF.