Thursday, May 19, 2011

Razing the Bazaar

Currently in GNOME there is some tension as we move into the post 3.0 world about the scope and direction of the project.  I wont go into the details of this, but essentially a number of core developers are pushing for a future in which:
  • The scope is widened to include more as part of core GNOME.  This is to allow more control and integration to produce a better user experience.
  • The project focus is being narrowed to have tighter requirements.  This is to reduce support overhead and complexity.
This change is being pushed under the "GNOME OS" banner.  While I think these ideas are being pushed for noble reasons (to make GNOME as good as it can be), there are some serious risks I am worried about:
  • If we build the perfect OS in GNOME it will not be enough.  History is littered with better products that fail to succeed.  Making an OS successful is as much about the OS design and quality as the ability to deliver that OS to end users.
  • If we base all our decision making on "what user visible change does this have?" then we risk losing innovation in our platform.  End-users are only one type of user in an OS and not all changes are relevant to them.  We have to think more in terms of "will this have a bad effect on end-users?" and look at other aspects.
  • If we narrow our focus too much we risk losing some of our current community.  The community is an enormous asset of GNOME, and not something we should take for granted.  This is not a company, and is driven by motivated individuals (some of who are then employed by companies).  There is great number of communities out there and GNOME needs to be competitive.
  • If we try and control everything then we increase the burden of maintenance onto one project.  There is no funding guaranteed to get us to GNOME 4.  We should always look (within reason) for opportunities to collaborate with other communities.
To abuse the metaphor by Eric S. Raymond it feels like we are razing the bazaar to build the GNOME OS cathedral.  We have a great product in GNOME but to build it faster and better we don't have to clean up our messy edges.  The bazaar around the cathedral is interesting and fun and throws up new ideas.  It's not stopping us from achieving success.

UPDATE:  Changed description of project focus, as it is confusing the point of this post.