As of this writing, the GNOME.org front
features the following text:
At 9am, April 19th 2007, join industry leaders and community
developers for a major announcement about Open Source and Free
This announcement will be made by Jeff Waugh, who has also promoted the event on the GNOME mailing lists
with this request:
Those paying close attention over the last 12 months will have a
fair idea what this is about, but please resist the temptation to
reply to this post about it, as we're hoping to keep it under wraps
This, in turn, has raised some eyebrows within the GNOME community. It has
been pointed out that the GNOME Foundation
charter reads like this:
In almost every sense of the word, GNOME is an open project. This
is one of our greatest strengths, has always been, and should be
the balefire by which we plot our course into the future...
This principle has real, concrete meaning for the foundation: All
discussions must be publicly viewable, any person must have the
opportunity to contribute to the decision-making process, and every
GNOME contributor must have the direct ability to influence the
decisions which are made.
How, it was asked, do secret plans for a high-profile announcement of a
major new direction for the project fit with those words from the charter?
Where is the "publicly viewable" discussion which led up to these plans?
How has it been possible for any person within the community to contribute
to the process which led to this decision? Some developers see this sort
of secrecy as being inconsistent with the open ideals of the GNOME project,
and they have been asking why things are being done this way.
Jeff has explained the reasons behind this
We'd like to exploit the promotional potential of this announcement
for the betterment of the GNOME community and the commercial
ecosystem around it. It is, in effect, a public secret -- the Board
knows, the Advisory Board knows, a particular subset of the
community knows (and have been participating for ~9 months) and
heaps of people in the broader community know about it but just
don't know that's what we're announcing.
Your editor is not privy to the substance of this announcement - though, as
it happens, he will be present when the announcement is made, so stay
tuned. Members of
the GNOME community have been talking about taking advantage of
opportunities in the embedded area for some time now, though. The venue
the project has chosen (the Embedded Linux
Conference) and the discussion of "mobility" give some strong hints as
well. So it may well be that the core of this announcement will not come
as a great surprise to active members of the GNOME project.
More to the point, there are limits to how much a group like the GNOME
board can change the direction of such a big project. The project's
direction will be determined (and demonstrated) by the code, documentation,
artwork, and so on which gets
created and contributed; there is little else that matters. Perhaps the
board can arrange partnerships with companies which may result in the
creation of certain kinds of code; as long as that code is developed in a
community-friendly manner and does not bypass the normal review process,
there is little to complain about.
Still, it's hard to avoid just a touch of discomfort with the sight of free
software projects behaving like corporations. Hype-building, press
releases, and flashy announcements may succeed in attracting the attention
of the press, but they are not the best way for these projects to
communicate with their users. We all benefit from the transparency that
the free software process provides; free software users are generally happy
to avoid the sorts of surprises that come with proprietary code. We
do not need to be - and don't want to be - herded by way of carefully
planned press events.
That does not appear to be what's going on here; instead, the GNOME board
has simply chosen a relevant conference to announce projects that some
GNOME developers have been working on for some time. Perhaps some
companies will announce that they intend to use and support this work. It
may well be true that
the board's tactics will lead to wider coverage of what's going on, with
a presumably positive effect on the GNOME user and developer communities.
As long as the GNOME developer community is not surprised by what comes
out, all should be well. But projects which want to take this approach in
the future should always think carefully whether their attempts to catch
the flighty attention of the press may leave their core developers feeling
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