11 March 2011

The GNOME wars

There is so much noise on the web these days about the big flame: GNOME with the Shell versus Canonical with Unity, I find very amusing the naivety of many people not understanding its roots.

In fact is very simple: the Linux world is going to war, a war between Red Hat and Canonical and GNOME just happened to be the first big visible battle on this war... expect more like this to come while Canonical feels the need to grow and at some point start making some money and Red Hat feels its dominant position challenged more and more.

Who will win? Is still too early to tell.


  1. I am not talking about competition, but about war, business versus business, not technology versus technology.

  2. Free Sofware is always in a war!

  3. Free software in war? why? how so? the idea is to open the sources and collaborate with each other, including your competitors.

  4. Red Hat vs Canonical? I'm not sure while Canonical is playing on desktop sand box... But yes, if they attract a lot of users then it will be easier for users that are admin to switch to Ubuntu Server, so in the future, maybe...

  5. I see more and more people running Ubuntu on servers... in the past years Ubuntu gained a lot of mindshare and when those people have to install a Linux server their option is Ubuntu because this is what they know... the same happened with RHL in the late '90es

  6. ...oh, and wait only a little more, Canonical will make the server push.

  7. Didn't think Canonical would have grown significantly enough to warrant Red Hat's attention. Red Hat is in the big-name league while Canonical is trying to get their foot in the door (or head in the "Clouds", as it were).

    What helps to confuse things is the general backlash about both Gnome 3 and Unity.

    Shouldn't Red Hat be more concerned with taking customers from Novell and SUSE while they are in-between owners?

  8. If at all RedHat is concerned about someone in Linux business, it will be Novell and not Canonical. May be Canonical may have a slight edge on preloads segment, but to be honest, Canonical is incapable of running a server business with their puny kernel, HA etc. contributions. I am sure RHT is not one bit worried about competition from Canonical on servers.

  9. SUSE is going down, while Canonical is going up, don't think "now", think "a couple of years away"

  10. It's sad that both sides seem to lower themselves to using such methods against each other.
    Blog posts like this are important, because it's too easy to give in to the emotional arguments and start spreading FUD unconsciously.

  11. Bullshit. I would have expected something more interesting from a troll like you. Come on, try it harder!

  12. Nicu,

    Your statements are a gross oversimplification of the situation... specifically with regards to GNOME 3 / Shell and Ubuntu Unity.

    To date Canonical still has not learned how to properly collaborate with all of their upstreams. Some they have, some they haven't. GNOME is one that they haven't. It took Novell and Red Hat a while to get it right with GNOME and they made their share of mistakes along the way... or at least that is my understanding. The main problem is that in its dealings with GNOME, Canonical would provide completely done software/libraries without much prior collaboration with the GNOME developers on why the library was needed, what needed to be in it, and if any other already existing libraries could have accommodated some or all of the functionality. Just like with Linux kernel development, the developers prefer to be in the loop on developments and having some input and feedback rather than getting a big code dump out of nowhere.

    Did Canonical read into that that Red Hat, which does employ some of the top tier GNOME developers, was trying to block their code? Maybe the did... who knows. Was Red Hat trying to block their code? From the top (Red Hat management), absolutely not. That doesn't mean that one or more developers didn't turn their nose up at Canonical, which is possible... but I strongly doubt it. GNOME is a mature community with a wide range of participation from many companies (including Red Hat) as well as independent developers... and Red Hat does not control GNOME.

    What we have here is Canonical wanting to have more control over the things that they care about (usability)... with the GNOME and Canonical developers having differences in design decisions. That's all. While some may have reasons to play it other ways, that doesn't make it true.

    I actually WISH there were a "war" between Red Hat and Canonical because that would be mean that Red Hat cared more about the desktop. Fedora cares about the desktop, but Red Hat, not so much. While Ubuntu Server may be becoming more popular on servers I don't think it has eaten into Red Hat's business too much and even if it had, and Red Hat was trying to be at "war" with them, I doubt they'd do it through GNOME. Ubuntu Server doesn't even ship with a desktop environment.

    Who will win? No idea. I'm not even sure there has to be a winner. I've tried both GNOME 3 Shell (in Fedora 15 Alpha) and Ubuntu Unity (in Ubuntu 11.04 Alpha 3). GNOME 3 Shell seems much more polished and streamlined to me. I still haven't quite figured out Unity. If Unity matures and is liked by enough people, other distros will probably add it as an option. If GNOME 3 Shell does well, perhaps Canonical will change its mind. In any event I don't think we'll be able to tell much from the initial releases of either one. It will take time and a few release iterations for things and users to settle.

    Having both, at least for the short term, will be a good thing as each project will work harder to compete with the other. For the long term, I'm not sure.

    As always, I appreciate your postings as they make me think... and quite frequently, respond. :)

    TYL, Scott Dowdle

  13. Regarding Novell and SUSE...

    You think they are going down? SUSE has been the main thing keeping them afloat. That was obvious when they started looking for a buyer and everyone only wanted to buy the Linux-related portion of their business.

    Recent happenings with Novell announcing the release of SUSE Management (an extended and rebranded Spacewalk - See: http://www.linuxplanet.com/linuxplanet/newss/7310/1/) and an EOL to Zenworks is just more proof that their older product lines were in trouble.

    Why did Novell buy SUSE? Because Novell had a waining business that had been eaten up by Microsoft and TCP/IP. Granted Novell wasn't able to totally turn the company around and they have remained in decline over the last few years... but that decline would have been much worse without the SUSE acquisition... no doubt.

    I really don't have any data to back this up but I believe that if Novell could have outright dropped much of its legacy business and just gone Linux only, they might have had a better chance of being successful enough to stay independent. Of course shafting existing customers would not have been very good either and would have a backlash of its own... so I'm probably wrong. I'm guessing Novell management knows their own company better than me. :)

    Will the new owner of Novell (assuming it goes through) be able to stop the decline and become mega profitable? Much of that depends on if they are heartless enough... yet not too heartless. Oracle claims that they made Sun profitable in less than a year. How did they do that? By making a lot of changes that pissed off a lot of people. That was bad for Sun customers, good for Oracle shareholders.

    TYL, Scott Dowdle

  14. @Sankar - In the current days... sure... in the future? I make sure reservations. I look into the education system (the same that is spitting out the future engineers and decision makers) and I only see two things:

    1. Ubuntu
    2. Arch Linux

    Arch ain't going nowhere, but Ubuntu might go a long run. You are not going to break the productivity of several teams to make them work with stuff they are not used to... And the people who take decisions at high level, they only see charts and numbers... and 'productivity' is a key element for their decisions.

    Nicu is more right than you can imagine. If Canonical succeeds in becoming attractive for OEM vendors and consumer electronics markets, they can get enough financing for vamping up their server business and put a hell of a fight in some markets.

    Ubuntu is 60% of the Desktops in Linux, if they walk away from GNOME to KDE for example... that will be a huge turn... and while Red Hat is imposing their rules, QT is assimilating nearly everything... don't neglect that, because the future might change and the recent comments from Mark seem to point that with time he might change to QT/KDE ;) That guy is good, very good... and still people underestimate him.

    To be honest, I would love to see Canonical taking down Red Hat... people seem to forget one thing... nothing last forever and Red Hat is declining... the polemics around JBOSS and a court disclosure... the recent attacks on their kernel patch methodology... Even Fedora seems to be in an awesome uproar...

    The only ones winning a lot from this will be opinion makers on the payrolls of both sides ;) That is the only thing I'm sure of...

    Profession of the future: FOSS opinion maker.


  15. @Scott - I believe that SUSE as a standalone unit can be a very cool 'milking cow', but it can't take the weight of all Novell, thus, it's either separated or it will suffer the same fate as Novell.

    Make no mistakes about, time will prove me right. SUSE can't feed everyone.

  16. Nicu : Canonical will win if they are successful in their ventures aimed for consumer electronics markets. It all depends on that. Honestly I think they are going after the wrong partners... but they might see the light ;)

  17. nelson,

    Novell has already been sold. There is an investigation holding up the original transfer date but it is very likely to go through. There will be changes in Novell. If the company taking it over didn't think they could turn it around, they would not have bought it. Turning it around might end up being breaking up all of the pieces and selling some of them, keeping some of them, and killing some of them. Who knows what will happen? We'll just have to wait.

    I'm not sure why you seem to be so unhappy with Red Hat with your "while Red Hat is imposing their rules" comment. What rules are they imposing? Is Red Hat in decline? I have no idea. I can tell you that their quarterly reports have been quite positive since they went public... which is pretty rare for any technology company much less a Linux company.

    I see some people complaining about their stock prices and valuation... but what tech company on the stock market isn't overvalued? To me the stock market is fundamentally broken but that is a completely different topic so I'll leave it at that.

    Oh wait, let me bring up one example. Apple. A while back I read some report where a leading PC magazine had one of their guys dig deeply into Microsoft's yearly earnings reports. The gist of the article was that the author believed he had discovered that Microsoft had moved around various things in their financial reporting to hide the fact that they had lost 1% of the desktop marketshare. Ok, let's think about that for a second. Who did they lose it to? Let's just say all of the 1% went to Apple. Last I checked, and I haven't checked in a while, Apple was very high up on the stock market. They are seen as the darlings of the tech industry... making the cool products... having the best usability... advertising on US TV (I don't know about the rest of the world) with a budget of tens of millions of US dollars. Sure they sold a ton of iPhones but the Android army has come into being and has hit them hard. The iPad has done quite well (15 million sold(?) with the iPad 2 coming out today)... and no one else in the market seems to have an inroad to significant marketshare in the "tablet" arena (which I don't even believe is a legitimate genre although Miguel de Icaza definitely disagrees with me buying his third iPad today). How are they doing with the desktop OS marketshare? They are supposedly selling lots of laptops... but in one of their best years in recent history... they have managed to pull 1% of the marketshare away from Microsoft? 1%? That's all? Yet they are a darling of the stock market... and the envy of the GNOME and Canonical developers.

    Of course if you listen to others, the desktop is dead and there is no reason to care about it anymore... and FOSS developers should start working on cloud apps before it is too late... and some say it is already too late.

    Wow, I'm getting off on some tangents. In any event, you can see that the tech industry is a tangled web of twisty little passages... all different. :) (Who knows where geeky reference comes from?)

    [continued in next post]

  18. Also, I'm not sure where people keep coming up with this figure that Ubuntu has "60% of the Linux desktop marketshare". I have no idea if it does or not... but determining that is near to, if not completely, impossible. For the sake of argument, let's say it's true. Have they been able to turn a profit yet? If not, why not? How much of the marketshare will they have to gain BEFORE they can turn a profit? Stupid question. Having marketshare for something that is free doesn't make you successful. In fact, it can be a dead albatrose hanging around a company's neck. That is the situation Red Hat found itself in before it decided to go the enterprise Linux route.

    Some say it is because Mr. Shuttleworth, who you obviously see as another legendary hero like many see Steve Jobs, has made it impossible for Canonical to make a profit because he has tried to focus the company in too many directions... meaning that no particular direction gets enough focus to be successful. Others might say that doing that is like throwing many things at the wall and seeing which ones stick. He keeps throwing things, and so far nothing has really stuck... nothing that will make the company profitable. I'm not saying that Canonical won't figure it out. I certainly hope they do... because the Linux market needs more FINANCIAL successes... not less.

    If Red Hat and Novell falter (which I don't think is going to happen)... while it might shift some customers over to other companies... it will make Linux seem like a less stable technology platform to pay for and invest in. Red Hat has shown that it can be done by having positive financial statements quarter after quarter... all while releasing everything they do as FOSS... and you want them to be taken down? You do know how much they contribute to the Linux kernel, gcc, GNOME, x.org, etc... right?

    I do know that if Novell fails or Red Hat falters... any people they have to shed will most likely be snapped up by other companies. Linux can survive the loss of Linus and Linux can survive the loss of one or more of its major distros... but we'd like to do more than survive.

    If you ignore everything else I write, please realize that there is plenty of room for more than one or two successful Linux companies. We all do better, when we all do better. :)

    Just because you see Arch and Ubuntu and not much else used in your neck of the woods doesn't mean that is how it is everywhere else. Red Hat and Novell are doing well in the "enterprise" space and CentOS is doing quite well too. Debian also.

    I think your supposition that if someone uses distro X in high school and/or college they will refuse to work for a company that doesn't use distro X... is silly. Or maybe you were saying that the company they work for will be forced (somehow) to switch to distro X because that's what their new employee(s) use. Riiiiiiiiight. That might be true for major OSes... but not from one flavor of Linux to another. Distros are 95% the same software and switching between them is not so difficult.

    Thanks for the discussion, Scott Dowdle

  19. @Scott - Functional Analphabetism is a problem of many, not mine for sure...

    First, it's nice when people know how to read yearly reports and stuff, but it's even nicer when you know how to make them! Then you know how to manipulate the numbers... A couple of years ago, they were manipulated down, nowadays, it's the other way around... NO! I'm not saying Red Hat or anyone else does it... I'm saying I know in what I can trust and in what I can't trust.

    Secondly... About financing corporations through the stock exchanges... I know the power that lies within the brokers... thus, also the weak spot... And a system that could be awesome to finance corporations became corrupted and exploited... No wonder that many have opinion makers on the pay roll, and the influence of media... See the link with the brokers? I can explain in detail if you want how the system perverted. So... do we really need to take this two points into deeper discussion? We can do it in private if you want, cause I trully love such topics...

    About the '60%', that poped out by someone in _comment_ on a post by David Neary about cooperation between GNOME and Canonical. Search linux today, it was one or two days ago. Someone pulled it out...

    About Red Hat hate waves... I have nothing against them using protectionism measures to defend their business... What I don't like is to see them attacking the others (read Canonical) for doing the same. They have clearly 2 weights and 2 measures, one for them, and another for the rest of the world.

    The value that Red Hat Inc has given to Free Software is something no one can deny... But look at Red Hat with a 2500+ workforce trying to bully Canonical... This is somehow Deja Vu... David and Goliath from the old testament. Come on... they are at least hypocrites.

    About Novell... I loss my respect for them in the day they pounded a volunteer contributor... and still today I'm not convinced he was booted of openSUSE project for bullying people or if it was related to some fuzz about some travelling budgets for a couple of Novell's employees in public. All of that was never really explained... And please... look at Jos P, Novell's Community Manager for openSUSE... who compared me with a 'rapist' defender for standing up in a comrade's defense, thus making of that person a 'rapist'. This is nice for a 'Community Manager', specially when he is one of the elements of a small influence group that had a direct coalition with the person that got booted... I mean the mailing list was public ;)

    ... continues ...

  20. Scott, the main problem is how to avoid another segment of the industry becoming monopolized by the greater powers... So sure... I want less power for Red Hat and more power for Canonical, and if possible a few more heavy weight competitors, so that they learn a bit...

    While 10 years ago we could see RMS engaged with DJB in ultra awesome b1tch fights (more could be mentioned), nowadays, all there are is prima donna's and hypocrites.

    To finalize... A corporation/brand is pretty much like a product/service... it has it's own life cycle... I challenge you do deny it and provide at least 2 statistical results to counter it. ;)

    They all start low, they all it a peak, and then they all come down... ones faster, others slower... but nothing lasts forever... even cold November Rain.


  21. "
    About the '60%', that poped out by someone in _comment_ on a post by David Neary about cooperation between GNOME and Canonical. Search linux today, it was one or two days ago. Someone pulled it out... "

    People are certainly not pulling out such assertions from reliable sources since none exists. Market studies have been done on Linux deployments but only on the server side. Noone is making any serious money on Linux desktops and hence no good market surveys.

    ". But look at Red Hat with a 2500+ workforce trying to bully Canonical... This is somehow Deja Vu... David and Goliath from the old testament. Come on... they are at least hypocrites."

    Nonsense. Red Hat as a organization is not focused in at Canonical. I bet you can't find a single official communication targeted at them as opposed to Oracle or Novell or VMWware. Sure, individual people have strong opinions and I have some strong opinions (not always positive ones) about Red Hat too and this has nothing to do with the size of the workforce (hint: majority of them have nothing to do with the desktop and are completely uninterested in Canonical). Btw, a private organization funded by a billionaire is neither a David nor a Goliath.

  22. I concur with Rahul's assessment... nelson is full of nonsense.

    Regarding companies and brands: there are companies that have been around for centuries. They often have periods of ups and downs - over and over again. It isn't always a bell curve but more of a sine wave. Examples? IBM, Ford, and Apple... although Apple is a lot younger than the other two. There are several dozen examples I could give but I guessing you get the point.

    Red Hat has not bullied Canonical. There is no war between GNOME and Ubuntu. and Shuttleworth is not a billionaire. According to wikipedia, he has about $250 million.

    This certainly is not the first time nor the last time two large projects have major disagreements. Why so many people seem to be paying attention to it and making such a big deal out of it... probably says more about social networking than anything else.

  23. Nice post thank you Amanda