Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Narwhal and the Banshee

As Ubuntu moves toward next month's Natty Narwhal release, an interesting discussion has been occurring regarding the Banshee music player.

The discussion gained a lot of attention with this essay in NetworkWorld: Banshee Amazon Store disabled in Ubuntu 11.04 by Canonical, pointing to a post by one of the Banshee developers, Gabriel Burt, where we read that:

As maintainers of the Banshee project, we have opted unanimously to decline Canonical's revenue sharing proposal, so that our users who choose the Amazon store will continue supporting GNOME to the fullest extent.

It turns out the discussion is about money, and Luis Villa offered some ideas about how to handle the money:

A sliding scale for revenue sharing can address this by giving one party a lot of the early, smaller revenue, and the other party a lot of the later, larger revenue.

Phil Bull pointed out that there are other frustrations, not just the money:

For starters, some people in the GNOME community moan about how Ubuntu doesn't pull its weight upstream. They then make it difficult for Ubuntu-y folks to contribute things upstream. People within the Ubuntu community, Canonical employees included, have tried to make significant contributions and have been knocked back on several occasions, in most cases not for any particularly good reason I would judge. I've even heard stories about Canonical having to upstream patches via a third party because a GNOME maintainer wouldn't accept (identical) patches from them! (I know; citation needed.) There is an anti-Ubuntu (or at least anti-Canonical) sentiment in parts of the GNOME community.

Bull's essay points to Greg DeKoenigsberg's essay from last summer about the problematic relationship between Canonical and other parts of the Linux community, where he says that:

One of the most irritating things about working at Red Hat was watching Canonical take credit for code that Red Hat engineers wrote.

Meanwhile, Mark Shuttleworth acknowledges that it is, indeed, at least partly about the money, in his essay Mistakes made, lessons learned, a principle clarified and upheld:

Money is particularly contentious in a community that mixes volunteer and paid effort, we should have anticipated and been extra careful to have the difficult conversations that were inevitable up front and in public, at UDS, when we were talking about the possibility of Banshee being the default media player in Ubuntu. We didn’t, and I apologise for the consequential confusion and upset caused.

And Gabriel Burt confirms that, indeed, the discussion continues:

Canonical asked the Banshee maintainers to join a conference call about an hour ago. They announced their new plan, calling past proposals mistakes

As for myself, I've been a Ubuntu user for four years, and I've been a member of the Apache open source community for closer to 6 years. There are indeed complicated issues here, and it's no surprise that the various communities are struggling with what it all means and how to work together. I was lucky that my interactions with my open source community were entirely free of money concerns, as I was neither paid nor did I pay for the open source software that I was contributing to.

And, I'd love to have a new music tool in Ubuntu, as the only reason that I keep my old Windows XP system around is that I haven't found a Ubuntu package that can successfully handle podcast subscriptions for my iPod. Can Banshee do that well?

It's an interesting debate, with lots of well-thought-out and well-presented ideas about the problems.

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