Gtk+ 3.0, take 2

Emmanuele Bassi has summarized a discussion that happened on IRC after my Gtk+ 3.0 post.

His blog entry starts by saying that we should not use blogs to discuss and then goes on to discuss. I agree with the sentiment, but IRC is not a good place to do the meeting either as we do not even have IRC logs for whatever channel they were on discussing.

It is about the ISVs

Emmanuele seems to think that this is a marketing problem. It is not.

This is about the effect that the current Gtk+ 3.0 plan has on ISVs.

KDE has almost no ISVs, Qt does.

GNOME has almost no ISVs, Gtk+ does.

Most likely because anything beyond the core toolkit is too unstable in both cases, and because things are too quickly flagged as deprecated with no roadmap in place.

The Qt situation is much better, as it is commercially designed, and they have existing customers that are paying them money to solve problems for them, not introduce new ones.

Qt is also designed to be bundled with your application, and you can make your proprietary application not break if the user upgrades his Qt. This is not the modus operandi for Gtk+.

Having an "abandoned Gtk 2.x" and a "maintained, but API and ABI incompatible 3.x" which will not be available everywhere at the same time is a major turn off for ISVs.

Creating an ISV ecosystem is incredibly hard, and somehow the new generation of Gtk+ developers is now "OK" to throw away years of work of those that had to work with fewer resources than Gnome has today, fewer developers, a smaller community, slower computers, bigger challenges and yet, managed to keep Gtk+ 2.0 API compatible.

Perhaps it is not a matter of being "OK", but the new crop of Gtk+ developers does just not appreciate just how much value ISVs are for Gtk+, Gnome and the Linux desktop in the first place. They did not have to fight to get those guys on board on the first place.

The premises and the conclusions of Imendio's paper would not hold if you were to consider application developers in the mix. But in particular, it seems that the mindset is dangerously close to the rationalization used recently by a KDE spokesperson and lampooned by the Linux Hater Blog.

What bothered me last night

What bothered me last night after I blogged was the realization that most of the Imendio developers have switched to OSX as their main desktop operating system (At least rhult, hallski and kris).

These are great developers, but for their day-to-day activities, they have given up on the Linux/Gnome desktop. Their concern is no longer to attract ISVs, as long as the source compiles with some changes, they will be OK.

There are certainly some developers at Imendio that still use Linux, and I am sure they have a "Linux partition" to test things out. But when it comes to ensuring the viability of the Linux desktop ecosystem, I do not feel comfortable about wiping out the ISV ecosystem that we have.

Discussion

Emmanuele says:

for instance, I would have loved to have Miguel at the gtk+ team meeting of Tuesday at GUADEC: it would have been a great discussion, I’m sure of it, and we might have had a different state of the union talk.

I mentioned this problem in my previous blog entry. Even if I had made it to Istanbul on Tuesday, I am merely one of the voices concerned about API stability. "Tuesday Meeting at Guadec" is hardly inclusive:

There was no Adobe.

There was no VMware.

There was no Medsphere.

There were no Eclipse folks (who have complained previously about the ABI/API issues).

There was no Gnumeric.

And these are the ones I can think of the top of my head.

Senior voices from our own community were missing, like Morten Welinder who has expressed his opinion in a shorter post:

The best thing about tabs that I can think of is that it will keep certain people from doing more harmful things like changing the gtk+ api for no good reason.

I do not know who attended the Gtk+ planning on Tuesday, but it was not inclusive, and I suspect it was heavily tilted towards the Nokia-ecosystem.

From a Nokia standpoint, I understand the desire of dropping older code, get a smaller version of Gtk+ out there, and be able to get a very flashy system at all costs. The iPhone and OSX are strong UIs, and I can understand the desire to compete, but lets not throw the baby with the bathwater.

Decisions about the future of Gtk+ can not be done without all the stakeholders, and specially without those that have worked for years in keeping the API stability under duress and have built applications on top of it.

Features

Emmanuele says:

Yes, 3.0.0 might not have features. is this bad marketing? probably. so we need to fix this. a way1 to do this would be keeping the 3.0.0 in alpha state, call it 2.99.02 and add features to that until we get to a 3.0.0 that developers will want to migrate to, like the new scenegraph API or the new style API. let’s break with 2.x in style

As I said previously, I would endorse such a plan if it is shown that fundamental new features could not be implemented in an API/ABI compatible way. Nobody has yet refuted my assessment of the various areas that would not break compatibility, and that covers most of the new features.

Although I am not the only stake holder, nor the only ISV, nor the only developer.

Communication

Emmanuele says:

communication: there’s a certain lack of communication between the gtk+ team and the users of the library. in my opinion, it’s due to the small number of active developers and to the fact that ISVs don’t really get involved into shaping the platform they are using. they have the source code, and sometimes it’s easier to fix in-house than to communicate and go through the proper process — and this is a structural problem that is caused by the small number of people involved in the said process as well. the gtk+ team needs to open up more, and at the same time the ISVs need to get more involved. sometimes it feels to me that the team is waiting for features, direction and help in the development, while the users of the library are waiting for the team to come up with the perfect plan to fix all the bugs and warts while retaining the whole API and ABI.

I agree with Emmanuele.

We setup the GNOME Foundation for things like this; Lets use the GNOME Foundation organizational powers to reach out to ISVs; to organize a platform and Gtk+ summit as it is now clearly needed; Lets include all the stakeholders, not only the active developers.

Process

Emmanuele says:

process: this is connected to the first point - we have a lot of channels, and it might be daunting to actually follow them all; but we're also open in terms of discussion and revision. this is our strength. so please: if you want to discuss, join the IRC meetings on the #gtk-devel channel on Tuesday at 20:00 UTC or send an email to gtk-devel-list with your points. get involved. help shaping the future. don’t stand idly by, and wait for stuff to break to complain.

Casual discussion on IRC is OK, but that should not be the repository for decision making for such a fundamental component of GNOME and the Linux desktop.

Perhaps the discussion can start on IRC, but minutes, summaries and decisions should be posted to the Gtk+ developers and users mailing list and given enough time for all the stake holders to participate.

Additionally, you can not expect that your blog has now reached all the ISVs, not even the gtk-devel-list (which is presumably a mailing list for the developers of Gtk+ not for its users).

We need to have a mailing list discussion, and then we need to have an outreach program to get to all stakeholders, including the ISVs to formulate a plan.

Posted on 15 Jul 2008 by Miguel de Icaza
This is a personal web page. Things said here do not represent the position of my employer.