The mood on some GNOME mailing lists in the weeks prior to the
recently-concluded GUADEC conference was somewhat somber; some members of
the community were clearly feeling that GNOME development had slowed down,
that the project lacked vision, and that GNOME was threatening to lose its
relevance with users. GNOME subsequently emerged from GUADEC with a new executive
director, plans for a 3.0 release, and a new burst of enthusiasm. It's
amazing what a week in an exotic city with large amounts of beer can
achieve. Since then, however, the enthusiasm has dropped a bit, and work
on a proposed 3.0 press release
have stalled. GNOME is now faced with some big decisions, and it's not
clear what the project will do.
The initial driving force behind this effort appears to be a plan by the
developers of the GTK+ toolkit to move to a new ABI without concerning
themselves with backward compatibility. Years of enforced ABI stability
have left GTK+ with a large pile of compatibility cruft which the
developers would like to leave behind; in addition, there are major changes
planned which would be hard to do in a backward-compatible mode. So the
GTK+ developers would like to start over with a 3.0 release. Lots of
planning is being done to make the transition easy; among other things,
care will be taken to ensure that GTK+ 3.0 will coexist nicely with older
installations. But, in the end, it's an incompatible ABI change.
At this point, the loudest objections seem
to come from Miguel de Icaza. He fears that a new version of GTK+ will
leave independent system vendors behind and, perhaps, lead to a series of
ABI-breakage events. In particular, Miguel takes issue with the plan to
make the ABI changes for the GTK+ 3.0 release, and only add the new
features (which, like much of the GNOME 3.0 plan are somewhat fuzzy at the
moment) later. The needed new features, he says, should be driving the
whole process. And, if at all possible, those features should be added in
a way which does not require an ABI flag day.
It would appear that the GTK+ developers are determined to make this
change, though, so expect it to go forward. But a GTK+ change is not the
same as a GNOME change; there is no particular need for GNOME to make a
major release just because an important library it uses has done so.
Anybody who has looked at the linkage of a GNOME application knows that
GNOME uses a lot of libraries; they cannot all drive major GNOME
releases. So, one might ask, what is happening with GNOME in particular
that warrants a 3.0 release?
This question was, arguably, most eloquently asked by Luis Villa, who has described
GNOME 3.0 as "a terrible idea." Luis's point is that an ABI change is
not enough to motivate a major release; instead, there must be a
fundamental vision of a better way to do things. That vision, he says, is
not there now. This is not an unprecedented situation in the GNOME community:
2.0 almost failed for this exact reason- before there was a clear
vision about doing usability/simplicity-centered design, the new
version number was a huge invitation to insert $VISION here,
leading to all kinds of crack.
A 3.0 process without a clearly-articulated vision will invite the same
sort of "crack." It will also throw away the rare public relations
opportunity that comes with a major update:
Finally, from a media perspective: the reason GNOME 2.0 was a
success in the Linux media, and the reason KDE 4.0 has been a
failure, is that GNOME 2.0 had a clear, persuasive story around it:
simplification and usability. No one in the media cared that we had
a new toolkit, except where it had specific features (mainly i18n)
that had user benefits. Writers ate up our usability story- they
could tell their readers the story we put out there, and it made
sense to them. KDE 4 has no coherent user-focused story, so this
incredible opportunity to reach out to the press has been
There are, certainly, interesting ideas to be found in the GNOME
community. The online desktop ideas, Document-centric
GNOME, and the mobile initiatives are examples. But it is true that
nobody has, yet, put together a concept of GNOME 3.0 which is broad
enough to unify and direct all that work while simultaneously being concise
enough to fit onto a bumper sticker. Chances are good that most GNOME
developers do not know what GNOME 3.0 really means; those outside of
the development community will have even less of a clue.
The KDE 4.0 experience should be on the GNOME project's collective
mind as it ponders a possible 3.0 release. Future KDE users may see KDE 4.0 as
the turning point where their desktop
started becoming truly great, but, for now, it does not look like a whole
lot of fun for the KDE development community. GNOME developers, one
assumes, would prefer not to have a similar experience.
GNOME 2.x has been around for some time; it may well be true that it
is time to make a big jump. It would be gratifying to see some new energy
and directions from the highly creative GNOME development community. If
the project can come up with a set of overall goals which can inspire that
community toward a set of common ends, GNOME 3.0 could be a
spectacular success. But those goals, if they exist, have not been
communicated to the community yet, and that is making some GNOME developers
Comments (26 posted)
In his two years at the top of Sun Microsystems, Jonathan Schwartz has
embraced a number of ambitious changes. While one need not look too far to
find complaints about how Sun works with the free software community, there
can be no doubt that Mr. Schwartz has made the company far more open than
it was in the past. Free software is an important part of Sun's overall
strategy; this can be seen in the company's claims to have contributed more
code to the community than any other source.
Unfortunately, Mr. Schwartz's time at Sun has been accompanied by a 50%
decline in Sun's stock price. Whether he could possibly have done any
better given the state of the company when he took over and state of the
economy now is something one could debate, but we'll not do that
here. More interesting, from the community's point of view, is the rumors
that he could soon be looking for a new job.
It has often been said that if corporations were people, they would have
the personality of a sociopathic teenager. Certainly companies can exhibit
no end of the sort of moody, capricious, and even self-destructive behavior
sometimes seen in adolescents - then they come back and ask for more money.
An abrupt change at Sun could well bring in
a CEO determined to show that his predecessor's policies were fundamentally
wrong and were primarily responsible for Sun's problems. And that could
bring some interesting changes.
Imagine a Sun which decided that it could no longer afford to share its
Valuable Intellectual Property with the world. Perhaps Solaris,
OpenOffice, Java, etc. would be relicensed under the new, Sun Proprietary
Overtly Indecent License (SPOIL), with no more free releases. Hungry
lawyers could start prowling for cases where Solaris code has been mixed
into projects with incompatible licenses. StarOffice might go OOXML-only.
MySQL could shift to a new, undocumented on-disk format with users' data
subject to Sun-controlled DRM on every table. The new Java license would
forbid the publication of not just benchmark results, but also of criticism
of features of the language.
Clearly, some of these scenarios are rather far afield - though they are
fun to make up. But, if we have
learned anything from the SCO story, it must be that a company which
presents itself as a solid part of the community can, in short order, turn
around and go against us. Even if Sun does not degenerate to the point of
starting legal attacks against free software, it could certainly put an end
to the many contributions that it is making now.
Whenever one deals in company-owned free software, one should consider what
happens if that company goes away. Projects with distributed copyright
ownership are mostly immune to this kind of problem; there is no single
company which could create huge problems for the Linux kernel by
withdrawing its participation, for example. (Along these lines, it's worth
noting that Evolution recently stopped
requiring copyright assignments from its developers). But, in
situations where a single company owns the copyrights and dominates
development, a change of heart could make a real difference to downstream
users. It all depends on what sort of community has developed around the
If future versions of Solaris were to be proprietary-only, the current
releases would still be out there. But the Solaris development community
outside of Sun is tiny, so chances are good that such a move would kill
OpenSolaris as a free software project - to the extent that it is one now.
Anybody wishing to continue to use Solaris would probably have to move to
the proprietary version. OpenOffice.org would likely survive, though the
external development community - never encouraged that much by Sun - would
have to organize itself and, perhaps, choose a new name. Java is entirely
subject to Sun's policies regarding conformance tests and such; it could
easily revert to its status from a few years ago. And so on. The point is
that a change of heart at Sun could easily make us appreciate the company's
relatively friendly attitude now, and could create difficulties for
distributors and users of Sun-sponsored projects.
There are plenty of other single-owner projects out there, of course. Many
of them are entirely dependent on the continued good will (and viability)
of their sponsoring companies. Others are less so. Copyrights on code
released by the GNU project are generally owned by the Free Software
Foundation. But, if Richard Stallman were to hit his head in an
unfortunate contra dancing accident and decide that, henceforth, FSF-owned
code would only be released under the binary-only GPLv4, those projects
would not suffer much. Instead, the development community behind that code
- strongly influenced but not controlled by the FSF - would quickly move to
a new home and continue its work. For a practical example, see the
creation of X.org in the wake of the relicensing of XFree86.
With any luck at all, the silly scenarios outlined above will not come to
pass. But there is value in pondering how things could go. Such thought
quickly leads to the conclusion that a vibrant development community is not
just good because it leads to faster progress and more cool features. That
community is the source for the long-term support for the code, support
which is not subject to one company's quarterly results.
Comments (19 posted)
If you wanted a symbol of Linux's impact on the world of embedded systems,
you could do worse than consider the edifying case of Wind River's
Damascene conversion. Once one of free software's fiercest critics, today
is a cheerleader
for the benefits of
open source, of sharing, and of giving back to the community.
Bruggeman is Wind River's Chief Marketing Officer. Here he talks to
Glyn Moody about why you can't use any old Linux for embedded systems, the
respective strengths and weaknesses of the Linux-based mobile platforms
from the LiMo Foundation and
Google's Android, and
what effect Nokia's announcement that it
would be open-sourcing the Symbian operating system will have on the
Once upon a time, Wind River was synonymous with anti-Linux: what happened?
The market changed, and I think that open source
became a very, very important part of the addressable market we wanted to
reach. And if Wind River was going to be relevant and going to be important
in the marketplace, we would have to have an open source and specifically a
Linux-based solution for our customers. So, basically, the market thrust us
into it, demanded that we do it, and I think it was all for the best that
What do you have to do to Linux to make it suitable for the embedded
The embedded marketplace has requirements that aren't
in the general enterprise computing market. Things like size becomes very
critical, and memory utilization and power management and some other
features like that. Standard Linux wasn't optimized or suited for device
types that face those challenges.
Those are kind of software elements, but there is also a hardware
element. In the enterprise computing space, you are basically living in an
[Intel architecture] world and everything is pretty constant and stable and
predictable. Well, that is the anti-case with what we see in embedded. You
have a plethora of hardware environments. Each hardware environment has
their own specific nuances and special techniques and tips and trips. And
making Linux work really well with hardware is a tough problem.
How would you compare your Linux offering with your
VxWorks is where you need absolute real-time
determinism, where you need things like safety and security, [and to] meet
certain regulatory standards and certification standards: those kinds of
applications are the sweet spot for our VxWorks software. More general
solutions, where application availability, middleware integration, [and]
where lots and lots of ecosystem partners are required, that's in the sweet
spot of our Linux software.
Is there any reason why your Linux software couldn't take on the other
kinds of things as well?
I think, over time, probably not. But, that's a long
time way. A great example of that would be security certification for an
airplane. The standards and the requirements to meet those certifications
are very, very complex. They are very difficult and I think Linux is a long
way away from being able to do that.
What's the kind of split between the VxWorks and Linux, in terms of
Today about 80% of our revenue is VxWorks, but the
fastest-growing segment of our business is Linux. It's growing in the
triple digits quarter over quarter over quarter. We announced it well north
of $50 million for us this year.
Do you think one day you'll ever be wholly open source?
Wholly? I don't think so. There will always be
certain types of devices in which VxWorks will be a superior solution. But
the Linux portion of our business will continue to grow, and I see a day
where our Linux business is every bit as big as the VxWorks business.
What are the key attractions of Linux for your customers?
Let me start with Linux in general. The first is
availability of the ecosystem. The need to accelerate the pace of
development is becoming critical. Many, many of our customers used to be
vertical integrators - they even manufactured their own silicon and they
would go all the way up to the top. And we're seeing a change that's
happening at light speed, where they are shifting from a vertical
integrator to an application developer. And they are really
differentiating themselves on the user experience, on the type of
applications they develop.
The attraction of Linux is there's this massive development community
developing that infrastructure stuff that they used to spend so much time
on, that enabled application development: they don't have to do that
anymore. The second thing is obviously cost. They really can get it at a
significantly lower development cost than they did when they used to have
to build it themselves.
What's your business model?
We provide things like integration testing and
validation. Open source is a bunch of packages and the magic is how well
are they put together and how reliable are they, and how well has that been
tested, and can you validate and stand behind that? We have over 300
support engineers located globally around the world, in different time
zones. We have the richest indemnity and warranty program in the
industry. We don't stand behind Wind River, we stand behind open
Moving on to the mobile phone space, can you say a little about LiMo and
Android, and what your involvement in those has been?
Linux has the opportunity to revolutionize the mobile
phone space - not just smart phones, but feature phones, converged phones,
[Mobile Internet Devices - MIDs]. What's holding it back right now is the
fragmentation. There are just way too many different Linux distributions.
What that means is the ecosystem can't aggregate and surround anything of
any critical mass. So, two initiatives have broken out that seem to be
aggregators or consolidators: one is LiMo and one is Android. We're not
smart enough to know which one is going to be the ultimate consolidator, so
we're tremendously active in both.
We joined LiMo as a board member and we work very, very hard with the
architectural committee to become the Linux foundation for all LiMo-based
development. What that means is the common integration environment, which
is the Linux-built system, the tool chain, is all based on Wind River
technology. And therefore any contribution that's made to LiMo [is] based
on our technology - we contributed that common integration environment to
the LiMo foundation.
[Open Handset Alliance's Android] was announced about six or nine months or
so after LiMo, and Google came out and said Wind River is their Linux
commercialization partner. We have been working with them for about two
years. We've done a number of hardware integrations for them. That's one of
our core competences: how do you get Android running on the hardware.
We have phones coming out for both. We see a lot of activity on both and a
lot of momentum for both.
How would you contrast the two initiatives?
LiMo truly is a consortium of equals. There are
multiple operators: Vodafone, Docomo, Verizon, Orange, others. A bunch of
carriers and a bunch of handset OEMs: Motorola, Samsung, LG, Panasonic,
NEC. And the board is made up of those guys and Wind River. And we see
that really is sort of: how do we get a common ground between fierce
competitors? How do we, for the good of the industry, standardize around
that stuff that's non-differentiating?
OHA is really a Google-driven initiative. They make product decisions and
they make feature decisions.
So, let's talk pros and cons about this. When it's not a democracy, when
the decision-making is very clear, decisions can be made quickly and things
move very fast. On the LiMo side, where it's a lot of people, with a lot
of experience building phones, who know what really matters, and what's
important and what works and what doesn't work, they can bring a lot of
different experience, a wealth of different perspectives together.
Sometimes it might take a little longer to make a decision over here but I
really understand and can see why that decision works over there. Where
this one races ahead, this one's a little more methodical and carefully
constructed. But they're both building compelling platforms and will both
be successful in the marketplace.
Alongside LiMo and Android, we will have an open source Symbian at some
point; what effect is that going to have on this whole market?
If you look at the smartphone market, it's 7% today
of the total phone marketplace. So, from a percentage basis, it's not
big. But what we're seeing is more and more feature phone-like capabilities
blurring with the smartphone. So even though it's a small part of the
market today, it's very strategic, because it does have implications
down-market on the feature phones.
Symbian's got 60% of the smartphone market. And Microsoft's 20 to 30% of
that market. Certainly they are not among equals, but Microsoft's been
gaining share against Symbian and against Nokia. So, I think this was an
aggressive and a bold and clever move against Microsoft.
Vis-a-vis Linux, the Symbian move just endorsed what was going on. It said
if you're going to be competitive, if you're going to relevant years from
now, you'd better have an open source model. I love that endorsement of
On the other hand, their solution is years away. Nokia said: Well, we'll
have it in the first half in 2010. Both Android and LiMo will have phones
out by the end of this year. So, there should be a lot of activity. Now if
I'm an ecosystem member, am I going to wait for 2010, or am I going to
develop today, and address real design opportunities and real win
I think Linux has a window of opportunity. We're going to see mass adoption
of Linux-based devices, whether they are phones, or converged devices or
MIDs, or whatever they are. However this market evolves, Linux is going to
have two years' worth of product out there in the marketplace, doing stuff,
before we see Symbian open source. While Nokia made a brilliant and bold
move, it might be too late, because there is enough Linux momentum,
especially behind OHA and LiMo, that I think they left that too
What about the other player in the closed-source world, Apple with its
Apple will always be what Apple is. Apple is just
fantastic, touches the super, niche, high end - somebody willing to pay
$700 for a phone. And there is a big market for that - if you think a big
market is 10 million phones. That's going to be there and that's not
threatened or messed with in any of this stuff, because they are always
going to come out with some really creative form factor or killer
application: they are going to touch 10 million people. Three years from
now we'll see a couple billion phones in the marketplace. So, let Apple go
be content with that [10 million]. Let RIM go hit their niche part of the
market. I don't see that catching fire.
So you've got the smart phones, the MIDs and now these ultraportables - the
$300-400 machines that run GNU/Linux. How do you see that three-way contest
I think all three devices meet certain use cases. I
don't see, in the near future, or even the mid-term future, a MID
overtaking a phone. There's a reason people talk on phones, but there's
this whole different class of people in different use scenarios, they need
What is becoming very, very clear is, it's not about voice and it's not
about text or email, it's going to be about a true, rich Internet
experience. Can a web page be represented on these devices at the same
clarity, the same quality, the same speed, as they are on the PC? When I
look at YouTube, I don't want to look at a fuzzy, webcam image. I want to
see [High Definition] quality on that thing. So, the devices we're seeing
today, they're being required to be able to deliver that level of video
representation and audio, that's [as good as] my music device and that's as
good as my home entertainment system.
In what other embedded sectors Linux becoming important?
One of the fastest-growing areas of Linux we see
right now is in the automobile: in the in-vehicle entertainment, in the
dashboard, in the navigation. Those, for years and years and years, have
been relegated to proprietary software stacks, because there's this big
stigma that an automobile is hard. It moves and it bumps and there's
temperature and there's all these safety requirements, and that's
I think Apple helped change the game, because everybody wanted their iPod
in their car without a bunch of wire striking around. Automobile
manufacturers worked on the development cycle that is five to seven years,
and all of a sudden the iPod hits and they have one quarter to figure out
how to get that thing in there.
This is a whole new business and process problem that the automotive
manufacturers had not been in before. They all stood up and said: We don't
know how to do this. And then the next new application came in and the next
new application and, all of a sudden, they said: There's been a tremendous
disruption in the industry; we've got to change the underlying principles
how we design these applications. And Linux is clearly the solution for
that, because it's all about the application and how extensible can the
platform be, and how well can we count on consumer-like speed in an
The second market that I would say we're seeing in the home. Things like
broadband access points - how you get content into the house: that's going
Linux now. Every new data standard, Linux is keeping pace with that better
than anything else out there.
We're seeing a general theme here. There's a real need for content - I want
YouTube and I want cable and I want satellite and I want data. We're seeing
those three C's of content, of connectivity, and of complexity. When you
have those three things there, Linux is a tremendous solution.
Glyn Moody writes about open source at opendotdotdot.
Comments (13 posted)
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