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Getting behind the Unity Mir thing

It was when the GNOME project decided to innovate in version 3. The effort was a bit high-handed to many and GNOME took many privileges in created a new version of a popular graphics toolkit. The developer of ab independent Linux file and desktop manager provides some background on the situation in A Linux Conspiracy Theory that provides some insight into why Canonical came up with Unity and is proceeding with Mir.

“With GTK 3, the application programming interface (API) for GTK was changed, meaning applications written for GTK 2 need to be ported to continue using it, a time-intensive process. While in some cases API breaks are sometimes necessary, it seems in this case that GTK/GNOME developers made no effort to limit breakage. Further, popular GTK application development tools like Glade were thrown into disarray, with distributions such as Debian abruptly discontinuing support of GTK 2-compatible Glade versions, leaving GTK application developers stuck for support.”

What is interesting is that much of the ruckus about Ubuntu (see Ubuntu Display Server Fallout) seems to be projecting what is actually the case with GNOME on Canonical.

“Many developers feel that with the advent of GNOME 3, GTK has become deliberately developed as a GNOME-only tool, to the exclusion of its other applications. Clem, a member of the Linux Mint distribution’s development team writes, “GTK 3 isn’t a reliable API. Maybe it should be called libgnome instead… I genuinely get the feeling that GTK 3.4 is developed for GNOME 3.4, that it doesn’t really matter if it breaks things and that we’re not supposed to use it outside of GNOME.””

In constrast, a goal of MIR (see MIRSPEC):

“We develop the system based on requirements and use-cases. We want to avoid the situation of unnecessary feature-bloat, with the system evolving on its own time-line without actual need for it.”

Why is Canonical working on a display subsystem that has a sharp focus and includes testing as an integral part of the development?

“What does this theme breakage amount to? It means that many tens of thousands of Linux users will experience app breakage, memory leaks and other serious issues almost every time they update their systems. Theme and app developers will be (and are being) inundated with inexplicable bug reports and continuous breakage of their work, requiring many hours to isolate the problems and to repair and rewrite themes. To put it in another perspective, hundreds of thousands of man-hours are being wasted by Otte’s approach with almost every update to GTK.”

In other words Canonical has been getting whipsawed by some FOSS developer dreams that have not paid much diligence to the broader community and their contributions and efforts. Backwards compatibility has been a big problem for Microsoft but they have still managed to develop and advance Windows keeping breakage with existing applications to a necessary minimum. Despite the umbrage of some FOSS zealots, Canonical is taking steps to bring together the community rather than tear it apart by creating designs solving problems that occur not only in technology advances but also in the development paradigms.

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