FOSDEM 2013′

This past weekend I attended and presented at FOSDEM 2013 in Brussels, Belgium. I arrived in Belgium early on Friday morning, and spent the first hour hanging out at the bus station chatting with Nick Daly and Christopher Webber waiting for a bus that, it turned out, wasn’t coming. So, I hopped a random bus towards the center of town and somehow found my way to the NH City Centre Hotel. After checking in and dropping off my stuff I made my way down to the ULB Campus Solbosch where I proceeded to help in the build-up for FOSDEM.

Build-up for FOSDEM was actually a lot of fun and I met a lot of awesome folks, many of whom have been volunteers for several years. I primarily worked on the buildup of the K Building, where we were almost entirely done by around 4pm, which was apparently a record and had everyone (especially the veterans!) pretty shocked. Around 6pm we had pizza and then headed to our respective hotels before meeting up at the Delirium Café for the FOSDEM Beer Event. Delirium was absolutely packed, and I ended up talking with folks from Aberystwyth University, some of whom who I’d met during buildup. I left Delirium fairly early (12-1am) as I wanted to get to FOSDEM early the next morning to get the GNOME booth setup.

On Saturday I woke up and had a quick breakfast at the hotel and then made my way down to FOSDEM. I was the first one from GNOME to arrive and hung out for a a little while before the event box and t-shirts, arrived and we could setup. The rest of Saturday was spent at the booth except for a brief hour or so when I went down to the H Building to give my talk and get some fries. My talk (Growing GNOME) went well, though I was pretty nervous. After my talk I returned to the booth where I finished out the day before heading back to the hotel, and then to the GNOME Beer Event at La Bécasse. Though the beer event got off to a slow start by around 9 or 10pm it was in full swing with dozens of GNOME users and contributors in attendance.

On Sunday morning I slept in and so didn’t arrive at FOSDEM until around 10:30-11am. I hung out at the booth for the rest of the morning and early afternoon before heading off to help with the cloakroom. I stayed there through the end of the day till we started tear-down around 6pm. By the time tear down was done and we’d had a bit to eat it was ~8pm at which point I headed back to the hotel, before venturing out for one last evening in Brussels.

On Monday I ended up taking a cab back to the airport after a failed attempt at navigating Brussels public transit back to the airport… after our fiasco last year when we missed our plane, I figured 45€ for a cab was preferable to missing my flight. It turned out that I was on the same flight back as Nick Daly & Chris Webber, and that Nick & I were actually sitting next to each other. As a result we had some interesting discussions, especially related to 3D printers and the possibilities of printing pamphlets, schedules, etc in braille for conferences.

Anyhow, I had a great trip to FOSDEM, and am extremely grateful for the GNOME Foundation’s help in making the trip possible. With a bit of luck I’ll make it back again next year – FOSDEM is an amazing place to meet new people from all over who are interested in free and open source software. If you haven’t made it to FOSDEM yet, make an extra effort to do so next year. Its worth the trip 🙂

FOSDEM 2013!

Tomorrow I fly back to Brussels, to attend FOSDEM 2013, where I’ll be presenting on GNOME’s community, my experience becoming involved over the last year and our efforts to expand it. Assuming all goes as planned I’ll be arriving in Brussels around 8:30am on Friday and am planning to help in the setup of FOSDEM in the afternoon, maybe  catch a nap and then off to the FOSDEM Beer Event. On Saturday & Sunday I’ll be (mostly) hanging out at the GNOME booth, answering questions and hopefully meeting lots of new people 🙂 If you’re around, stop by and say hi!

In any case a big thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring me!


GNOME Forums are Up!

I’m happy to announce that GNOME Forums are up and running: !!

If you have questions or comments about GNOME, please, come and talk about them, and lets see where we can find some common ground and provide some reference to what our users *actually* like, want and need in an operating system generally and a gui specifically. There are couple of basic sub-forums but as we grow I fully expect to add new ones, primarily on an as-needed/wanted basis. Suggestions are welcome!!

Also, please keep in mind, I’m new to this gig, so expect some hiccups and rough spots as we figure things out. Finally, once again, if you’re interested in helping out, please let me know.

GNOME Forums are coming!

I can’t say much more than whats in the title just yet, but I thought I’d give everyone a heads up – forums for GNOME users, developers, etc are in the works! Hopefully soon we’ll be building a community of users, contributors and other interested folks to make GNOME better than ever! Stay tuned!

If you have suggestions or are interested in helping out, please let me know. My contact info is on the “About” page, or leave a comment with your  contact details and I’ll get back to you ASAP 🙂

Communication Part Two

I’d like to start out by apologizing to anyone who felt singled out in my last post. Though I knew that some would be upset, I never intended to single anyone out. The current problems with communication aren’t any one persons’ fault – they involve everyone. As a community we are failing to communicate – both with each other and with the wider FOSS community. Whats more, when we do communicate, we tend to do so poorly (perhaps best illustrated by my last post… again, sorry! Hopefully I’ll do better this time:).

Communication as we all know (though sometimes forget) is a two-way street. In our case, we need to start by communicating well with each other, so that when others come to us they see a respectful exchange of ideas. Beyond that, we need to remember that as we communicate with each other, we are also doing so with a wider audience, and they need the ability to communicate with us in turn. Currently, most of our communication to the wider community is in the form of announcements, with persistently negative feedback of late. The result is a self-perpetuating cycle, and one which is hard to stop. It works something like this: negative feedback from the ‘outside’ makes developers on the ‘inside’ hesitant to share in advance what they are working on, which results in ‘insiders’ only making announcements, without the ‘outsiders’’  input, resulting in more negative feedback and an even greater hesitance to share.

What we really need is a place where users and developers can easily interact and share ideas. Currently most of our communication takes place in a web of mailing lists and IRC channels. Within this web, some groups rely heavily on IRC, others on the mailing list, and yet others on bugzilla. In any case, none of them are particularly accessible to new users, and both can be very intimidating to new contributors. Whats more, they all lack a usable search (and in the case of IRC, an archive), which results in the same questions being asked repeatedly, which is frustrating for everyone.

The simplest solution is one which most other FOSS projects have long taken advantage of – forums. Forums are accessible and user-friendly. They provide built-in archiving and search capabilities and can be read without registering or installing anything. Whats more, when readers want to start posting and sharing their thoughts, registering is a simple, straight forward task, and one that most have done before. Other alternatives could include a dedicated Google+ group or other social media platform (perhaps Elgg[1]). But the idea is to give users and developers outside of our project an outlet. One where they can ask questions and provide feedback on features and changes. Perhaps more importantly it must be adopted and used by ourselves to discuss features and changes so that others can follow our discussions and see the reasoning behind them, both as they occur and later through search. It must become an outlet for the current development community as well as those on the outside who are curious about what is going on. A place where users and new contributors can make their voices heard and be taken seriously.

Working in the open is hard. Communicating well, especially when you feel attacked is harder still. Talking amongst ourselves and doing as we like is much easier. Unfortunately though, it does not endear us to anyone, and especially not to the wider FOSS community. As I’ve always understood free software, a large part of its beauty comes from the openness that drives it. As we shelter ourselves in communication which is effectively private, we hide from the larger community of which we espouse to be a part, and push them away as a result. Becoming better stewards of our own community will help us to grow and endear us to the larger FOSS community as well.

Open Communication

In my previous two blog posts, I have talked about growing our community and communication. In this post I will be focusing on communication and how we can best improve it, and in so doing expand our community. A number of things can be done to improve our communication, some of which I laid out in previous posts. But one way or another we must improve – both within GNOME and the wider free software community.

In GNOME, as in most free software projects, the majority of communication takes place online. This in of itself, does not make it open. Many discussions take place primarily on IRC and are, in effect, private. When discussions eventually bleed over onto bugzilla and/or mailing lists, they are usually close to, or have already been resolved. The result is that most users and developers receive notice of changes only when they have already been finalized (or nearly so). Too often this is after they have been announced by a third party, or (even worse) a 4th, party such as Slashdot or Reddit.

Obviously, this is not an ideal way for any organization to project its message. The resulting fallout is generally negative, putting GNOME developers, designers and defenders alike on defense. Whats more, defensive responses are generally reactive, and are often perceived as dismissive. Of course, nobody likes to be dismissed and the result is another round of negative feedback, thus perpetuating the cycle. It is this cycle that we must break if we wish to remain relevant and respected.

Remaining relevant and respected should, I think, be a priority. In order to do so we must develop a better system to communicate what we’re doing, why it is important, and when it will occur. When we remove features, we need to explain our reason for doing so to users. For example, what was it about compact view mode that was truly harmful to Nautilus? We must also ensure that we avoid breaking API’s whenever possible. When we do so, we must explain to developers (especially those outside of our own insular community) why it was necessary, and how to ensure their work does not become obsolete. This means explaining ourselves, writing documentation and helping others whenever and however indicated.

If we continue to break API’s at random (like those in GTK+3 [1]), we will continue to alienate developers, and with them, users. This should be a concern, but does not seem to be for some GNOME developers. By ignoring the needs of others, we drive them away, which turns them from being supporters into detractors. When it appears that we are doing so on purpose, by breaking API’s and purposefully ensuring that extensions and themes cease to work, we anger and alienate users and developers alike, sometimes permanently.

But hope springs eternal, and change and growth for the better can (and hopefully will) occur. Primary to that is respect – for others’ work, ideas and opinions. Being open to others’ thoughts and a willingness to listen and consider outside ideas. Secondary to all of this is communication, on both sides. For those within GNOME, communicating what they are doing, and where they expect and hope to take GNOME in the future. For those on the outside, a willingness to listen, withhold judgment and avoid knee-jerk reactions. With just a bit more understanding and compassion, GNOME can continue to move forward, as a vibrant and relevant member of the wider free software community.


On fallback mode

I’m just going to preface this by admitting something: I love GNOME 3. It works (for me) and is, in my opinion at least, beautiful in its simplicity. When I show almost anyone my computer, the response is almost always positive – comments usually include ‘thats cool!’ or ‘I like that!’. Its interface is streamlined and non-intrusive, and for myself and many others, allows us to do what we want, without unnecessary intrusion by the GUI.

All that said, I understand peoples dislike, and it does take a bit of getting used to. If you want a traditional desktop in the vein of Windows 95, or are running older hardware, GNOME is probably not for you. When Unity came out in Ubuntu 11.04, I wasn’t a fan and on recommendation, I gave XFCE a try for the first time in many years. I liked XFCE – I still do, and I used it as my main desktop briefly, before discovering GNOME 3. I still run XFCE on an old backup desktop, and keep it installed on my laptop as well. The point is, I understand why some dislike GNOME Shell, though I suspect most complaints can be remedied with extensions.

Whether you want a panel, an application menu, or something else, there is likely an extension for it. Currently, the problem with extensions is their tendency to break between releases. At the Boston Summit, we discussed how to ensure users are given the tools to make GNOME work for them. Currently discussions are centered around compiling a list of ‘supported’ extensions which do not break with every new release. Work is ongoing, but if this is something that interests you, I encourage you to contact us and become involved in the discussion [1, 2].

As for the impending removal of fallback mode, and the way it was announced all I can say is I’m sorry. As in much of the FOSS world, communication skills are (unfortunately) not one of the GNOME community’s great strengths, particularly from a users’ perspective. The result of which is negative press when something is changed or removed, with the imminent removal of fallback mode being the latest manifestation thereof.

Fallback mode, as I understand it, was never meant to be a permanent part of GNOME 3. Its removal has been planned since its inception, though that does not appear to have been communicated to the larger community.  One factor which has contributed to the confusion was the renaming of  ‘fallback mode’ to ‘GNOME Classic’ in some distributions. Today it is neither used nor tested by a majority of GNOME developers, resulting in numerous bugs large and small.  Whats more, since its original purpose (making gnome-shell usable without hardware acceleration) is largely null with LLVMpipe, it has outlived its usefulness, and the result is its imminent removal from GNOME 3.8.

I know that much, perhaps all of the above is upsetting to fallback mode users. If you are one of them, I encourage you to do two things. First, checkout and determine if your issues with GNOME Shell can be fixed with extensions. If so, wonderful! If not, and GNOME 3 is simply not for you, by all means, look at the many other options available. Personally, I’m a fan of XFCE, but you may prefer LXDE, Enlightenment or something else entirely.