libappindicator, The "Curse" That Destroyed Canonical-Gnome "Relationship"?

It was inevitable, if you asked me. It wasn't unexpected either, although not the whole "issue", but in general if you look carefully at the history of the two "parties" and their "characteristics", again, it just had to happen!.

If you're a bit new to this...

In that case, very recently... Canonical decided to throw away the Gnome Desktop module from their OS Ubuntu, Gnome was one of the basic foundations behind Ubuntu (in a way)... the OS was basically optimized for Gnome (GTK+) from the start of Ubuntu Linux.

But due to certain confusions that took place recently between Canonical and Gnome, concerning a software module called "libappindicator" (explanation below), Canonical decided to completely remove Gnome from their OS (no official support for Gnome from now on) thus decided to use their own desktop module called the "Unity".

So, basically this is the story behind the birth of the Unity Desktop (in my point of view, so others may have different opinions on the subject) which is going to be introduced for the first time with the upcoming Ubuntu Linux 11.04 Natty Narwhal within the next couple of days.

Back to the story...

But before going into all those details, first let me give you a basic understanding of what this "libappindicator" is all about and a little history lesson :P... is in a briefing manner. Yes, I promise not to let you fall asleep.

What the....

What the heck is this "libappindicator" anyway?

To put it into simple terms, application indicators (another name for what "libappindicator" stands for) in general,
... they are protocols that enable users to easily access various "options" of applications via their icons stored/minimized in the notification area (in the panels of the desktop screen) or a way of accessing their basic "menus/options" easily, in general terms.
Example of an application indicator, picture-from: Ubuntu
For instance, what happens these days with applications that does not support "indicator protocols" which are dock-ed in the notification area of the panels, if you want to access their main options such as "play, pause," or "cancel", "preference" type standard features, then you have to right-click or bring them to front and then go to the menus, etc... so, currently it is a long - painful process.

But as you can see with application indicators, you can simply left-click on an app that supports these protocols and can easily access their basic options as shown in the above screenshot. This helps to give the end users a better computing experience in general. This is the future... or so it seems anyway.

So what I'm trying to say is that, by trying to create an application indicator, Canonical did the right thing. Application indicators, however is not something new, they've been there as long as with the beginning of these desktops, "libappindicator" is simply an advanced one, other than that, the idea is simply, not new.

But remember that the "libappindicator" was started by using another a bit primitive indicator library called "KNotificationItem" which as can be seen in the name, is a KDE based library. Although they've added so many new things thus the "libappindicator" is almost a totally different one in technical attributes, yet from the emotional point of view, even from the start, it is reasonable if Gnome team felt a bit "threatened" by it. Why?

They are not friendly!

You keep the distance... you... TwO :(
That's the simple answer. Although both Gnome and KDE share the same GNU license and other than competing against each other, they seems like friends in the free-software who believes in the same "thing", yet when they're measured using the past... the sad truth is, they simply belong to two entire different "groups". Nope, they are not friendly.

For instance, even from the beginning Gnome decided to stick with the GNU Philosophy which was born out of Richard Stallman's brain in 1983 (earlier actually, it was officially introduced at that time, anyway).

Mr. Richard Stallman...
But in less technicality and in a more emotional level... GNU/Linux was born because the Young Richard Stallman felt jealous and angry (just like any of us would) towards the system admin where he worked as a programmer (if I remember correctly) who one day came to him and said... "Oi!, I removed your administrative privileges!, you're just a normal |user-account| in OUR computer system from now on". Well not in that language but.. something similar ;-).

So, as anyone else would feel... he felt a bit disrespected, etc and decided to come-up with a philosophy that would help to "free" individuals, importantly not everyone.. but certain types of people who had similar characteristics thus hand a natural tendency towards their idealistic value-system, in my opinion.

I don't judge Mr. Richard... in fact he's one of the most respected individuals in my list actually. But that's not to say that he or his way of life are perfect. I've seen him protesting or protecting certain criticisms concerning GNU and I don't think us as outsiders will find it easy to point out certain "errors" and get them fixed. Again, he is a remarkable human being. After all, most of the time, its our ideas that define us and sometimes you have to defend them anyway.

However, what I'm trying to say is that, I've seen this mentality, of being "very hard to be heard" others "voices" type scenario with Gnome hackers as well. For instance, how long and how many have criticized their oversimplified GUI of the Gnome desktop yet, despite all those efforts, that desktop still comes with the most ridicules right-click ever!.

So basically, Gnome is very close with GNU, in fact, Gnome is actually part of the GNU project thus GNU philosophy being what defines them... Mark Shuttleworth being a person from the other side (you know... every hackers nightmare... those CEO or business individuals who love giving orders - "kind") it is quite natural he finds Gnome annoying. 

KDE however is totally different. Heck they started designing their desktop's GUI in a way that Gnome community wouldn't even dream of!. It was started around 1996 and the GUI was designed a tool-kit called "Qt" which was owned by a company called Trolltech.

And at that time, the tool-kit, forget about the GNU philosophy, it wasn't even an opensource app, it was simply a closed-source (like Microsoft). But to most surprise, KDE seemed to have decided to put aside all those "nonsense" that philosophies bring and create something that is "usable".

From the start KDE showed a lot of promises with their desktop. It was and still is the total opposite of Gnome. In a way to me, KDE feels like the direct result of Gnome's arrogant behavior that didn't give users a more feature-rich desktop thus some developers had decided to create a desktop of their own, because again, Gnome wouldn't listen. But of course KDE was started before Gnome but I'm just saying, they are just "different".

Anyway, as I was saying... as KDE gained more momentum and around 1998 when it was obvious that it's gonna be a major desktop in GNU/Linux world and to avoid future criticisms or to accept their desktop to major distributions such as Red-Hat (now Fedora) etc they asked from Trolltech to release the Qt toolkit in GNU or the lesser GNU-GPL (which is also supported by GNU foundation). But the dudes at Troltech refused!. Anyhow, around 2005 Trolltech finally decided to release Qt under GPL!.

This again shows the basic difference between KDE and Gnome. When Gnome is famous for being less "polite" in their approach, KDE on the other hand is pretty easy to get along, I think. For instance, if you decided to add a new option in Gnome desktop, a feature/s that would break the idea of being "simple-&-useful" in Gnome's point of view... then your life as an official Gnome developer is simply over buddy!.

But with KDE, you can design a program and add as more features as you like ... still there's not guarantee that your app would be taken into the official KDE project, not because you've added so many features thus it will scare away the newborn computer user as Gnome thinks.

So back to the Qt story... now what KDE had done was something that Gnome would never do!. That seems like their main difference actually. Gnome viciously fights against an enemy/idea that already has a natural advantage over its core idealistic value/s (or so it seems on the outside) which is resulting a drift towards, more likely a business module (in this case) that has to operate within a controlled environment where KDE is also headed.

And when observed from this angle it should be apparent why Gnome developers would feel threatened when the "proposal" was first introduced.

A little about Mark Shuttleworth...

Mr. Mark Shuttleworth, the man who loves "Space..."
Even though both Richard and Mark are one of the most active members in opensource (well Richard hates it, so he's an active GNU member to be precise) world, but again they both represents totally different idealistic values. But they are both remarkable human beings in my very humble opinion when considering their lives.

Mark first enters the Debian community which is one of the oldest GNU/Linux distributions and I think to this day he is quite a powerful figure (heck yea he is... Debian -> Canonical -> Ubuntu :D). But the point is when considering Mark's choices as a software developer, I think it's pretty safe to say that he is an admire of KDE who doesn't like Gnome that much.

Why?, well the highest position/authority a person can hold in the world of KDE is called "First Patron" (cool name btw) and like many know, Mark Shuttleworth was named as the first patron of KDE in 2006.

So this brings us to the point that, he seems to be quite fond of KDE. And I find this to be quite natural actually. Because if you want to run a business, there has to be someone in "control". Someone, not necessarily eager to prove himself which is usually a sign of a mind that is drifted towards insecurity and fear, but someone wise and kind (someone willing to bear the humiliation, perhaps). Not talking about Mr. Mark or anyone else here... because I don't know who he or they really are.

But I'm just saying, if you want to "lead others", if you must, then you should have the power to make certain decisions which also require a controlled environment - like a business for instance. You just can't achieve it through "something" that is operated by certain individuals who don't like you much for who you are.

In that sense, if you want to run a business, Gnome is your worst nightmare!, it should be actually. Because that's their/its purpose as far as I understand. To quote...
    "You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees. An evil system never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil. A good person will resist an evil system with his or her whole soul."
    -Mahatma Gandhi (taken from Richard Stallman's personal website).
Then it's quite interesting why Mark Shuttleworth decided to use Gnome as the basic foundation (until this incident came alone of course) of Ubuntu by saying that Ubuntu by default is optimized for Gnome.

Although I will not go into all the details into the conversation that took place between Mark and the Gnome board member Dave Neary but when having a look at one of his blog post that he wrote including the heading, "competition", if you read that post you'll see certain types of words arise again and again.

For instance, "leadership", "competition" and "challenge" + in an interview that took place in 2008 he said that...
'Linux is a platform for people, not just specialists'
Question: Do you think that GNU/Linux will ever become a significant force on the desktop?

MS Answer: "I think that depends on how people define a desktop. If people continue to define a desktop as the thing that they run Microsoft Word on, then Windows will retain its position. My sense, though, is that people are increasingly defining the desktop as the thing that they get access to the internet from. In that case, there's a real possibility that we're able to shift people onto different platforms." 
Dave Neary in his response to some of Mark's criticism sums up Gnome for what it really is by saying that (I urge you to read the full blog post to get the whole idea and I'm pretty sure there are lots of light-minded people in Gnome without a doubt)...
It’s made even more difficult because a number of key contributors in the projects in question have a reputation of being hard to work with. In GNOME we have our share of people who, to use a phrase Jon Corbet uses to describe kernel hackers, are “not always concerned with showing a high degree of politeness”.
The answer lies in the question "Why?" (concerning the both "sides"), which is actually the purpose that I tried to achieve through this humble (a little word to cool things down ;-)) blog post .

I'm not going to say anything about this matter anymore because I've said what I wanted to say and I feel that there should be limitations to the extents that you can criticize others. It's unfair, inhuman. But..

... as a closing note - "Little" conversations like these are like lightnings that arise in the sky at night... they're there for thousandth of a second... yet their light is so bright, makes everything visible, for a moment, at last. Just like that, these little incidents sometimes let you see through the human "conditioning", right to its core.

As Leo Tolstoy famously put it his book, Anna Karenina...
"The struggle for Existence and Hatred is the one thing that holds us together"
The truth interests no one. It's boring, pretty much straightforward and does not serve the purpose of creating happiness in a "world" which is dualistic in its nature. You can be a software engineer, a mathematician, a scientist, a hacker, a leader and so on.

But at the end of the day, when traced back, it's just that... it's just... it's just all about this need to create "that look" on "their" faces. So is that it?, are we nothing but slaves?, I dunno, but I'd fight the heck out of it to find an escape ... wait!, is that pride? shi*, I'm stuck, again ...


Anonymous said...

Dude you promised not to let me fall asleep but as far as I'm concerned you didn't keep your promise

Gayan said...


Oh cra*!... sorry about that mate ;-)

Anonymous said...

Yep, me too, but more importantly, when I was awake I couldn't understand the points you are making because the grammar and tenses aren't consistent.

Edit your articles before publishing, or better yet, get someone else to do it, they will improve.

Good luck.

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