Some Thoughts on the Gnome Controversy

As most OSNews readers know, I got into a spat with the Gnome developers last week, which culminated in my publishing of an angry editorial, which sparked a firestorm of controversy. On one hand, the controversy was positive, because it introduced a lot of people to the fact that many people believe that Gnome developers have not had an effective channel to receive and interpret feedback from users. But on the other hand, the controversy had the negative effect of inflaming passions, putting everyone’s guard up, and perhaps even widening the gulf between those who love Gnome but want a voice in its future, and those who hold its future in their hands. This effect was unintentional, and I would like to apologize for any damage I might have done to the project.I understand that when working with people you don’t know, over an impersonal medium like email and mailing lists, it’s easy for misunderstandings to spiral out of control. In fact, before this more recent controversy, I was on the receiving end of a misunderstanding with Gnome developers when a suggestion that I made regarding a Gnome theme ended up being applied incorrectly and I was the target of some truly unfair online abuse for it. It’s so easy to fly off the handle on an email list or a blog that sometimes we are incensed by something someone says or does, and we respond too hastily, and misinterpret their words or intentions. And because it’s so easy to respond, one lack of understanding can lead to an unnecessary flamewar of epic proportions.

I realize that my confrontational writing style makes me particularly susceptible to this kind of misunderstanding, because I often come on so strongly that it makes people defensive, and they’re in no mood to try to see my true motives. And I realize that I am as guilty as anyone of flying off the handle, and misinterpreting someone else’s words or intentions, and In the case of this current controversy over Gnome user feedback, I may have misinterpreted other people’s points. If this happened, and they saw their points, misinterpreted, and aggressively refuted in my editorial at OSNews, I can understand why they would have been angry, and responded in kind.

I must admit that the nasty personal attacks and blatant mischaracterization of my motives that came forth in the comments at OSNews, on Slashdot, and many personal blogs hurt me deeply. And pondering that, I tried to temper my anger and think whether I may have inadvertently made anyone else feel the same. I realize that being angry and defensive isn’t going to do us or the Gnome project any good, so I would like to extend an olive branch of peace. If I have misinterpreted your words, or mischaracterized your motives, I apologize. And I would like to continue to work with you to make Gnome better. I can’t promise that I won’t continue to disagree or even become angry, but I will do my part to put this particular disagreement behind us and work toward making Gnome better.

I want to be fair to everyone involved. Regardless of what I might have said in the heat of the moment, I don’t honestly believe that the Gnome developers want to be deaf to users’ needs. None of us really believe that we are volunteering our time on this or any other open source project solely for our own personal use. Everyone who has labored on free software ultimately wants it to make an impact on the world, wants it to be used by many people. I believe that the Gnome developers really do have the project’s best interests at heart, and I want to reiterate and assure them, and everyone, that I do too.

It’s sort of an inside joke to us here at OSNews that I have been accused of being too pro- or too anti- just about every OS, platform, and technology you can imagine. While in one thread I’m criticized for talking about open source software too much, in another I’m savaged for being rabidly anti-open source. I spend hundreds of hours working to make Gnome better, but then I’m accused of having a vendetta against Gnome. It would be funny if it didn’t hurt so much. Yes, I’m a hot-tempered internet persona (being Mediterranean and all), but I’m also a human being.

I realize that much of the most stinging criticism I received was from people who hadn’t paid close enough attention to the facts and couldn’t be bothered to even completely read what I said. I’m tempted to set the record straight, but for fear of opening old wounds, let me just say that some people accuse me of short-circuiting the process by airing my grievances on OSNews, but I can assure you that I went through all the “proper channels” for many weeks and months and only posted what I did out of desperation. And I did it not to attack Gnome or open source software, but because I care about it so deeply. I mean, think about it. Would I spend hundreds of hours of volunteer time working to help Gnome and other open source software just as the setup for some elaborate troll? No, you are not being Punk’d. Besides OSNews, GnomeFiles and third party Gnome apps that I help with various ways, I am also the editor responsible for the monthly Gnome column of the European Linux+ magazine which prints in 5 languages.

In conclusion, I think that even if we disagree, we should be able to disagree without making enemies of one another. I’m not going to make any more demands, and I’m going to let this issue rest. I stand by most of the points that I tried to make, but I apologize for misstating anyone’s opinions, and I welcome any of the Gnome developers to respond to my points in editorials at OSNews, or if they prefer to make their points on their blogs or other sites and let me know, I will link to them from OSNews (if they’re written in a conciliatory fashion, of course). I don’t want to perpetuate the flamewar, but if we can all take a deep breath and try to move forward constructively, I would like to use the resources at my disposal to facilitate that. That’s all I ever wanted.

Update 1: Expert-Zone’s Thom Holwerda (who wrote a similar editorial to my original one) also has something to say to the Gnome devs.


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