GNOME Again, GNOME Again, Jiggety Jig

There’s just never a dull moment here in the Linux blogosphere, and the last week or so has been a perfect illustration.

Not only did the Shellshock bughit the proverbial fan, but the ever-burning Systemd flames flared even brighter, thanks to the addition of some fresh fuel.

What was that fuel, you may wonder? Oh, none other than the little tidbit of news from the Debian team that it’s decided to make the GNOME desktop default again — and that Systemd was at least part of the reason.

‘A Passionate Case’

Linux Girl

“Xfce, Mate, etc. are stuck paying catch-up” as regards Systemd, Debian developer Joey Hess wrote. “Going by the current status, GNOME is ahead.”

GNOME also leads when it comes to accessibility, Hess wrote. Then, too, “the Debian GNOME team made a passionate case for GNOME having a bigger community,” he added — among several other less tangible factors.

Bottom line? GNOME will be the new default in Debian 8.0 “Jessie.”

Hess then made a hasty exit from public view. “I will not be answering media enquiries related to this commit,” he stressed as he made his way to the door, leaving Linux lovers with plenty to chew on.

‘The Tail Is Wagging the Dog’

“We’ve changed to Systemd and GNOME is the only desktop that is comfortable with that, so we make GNOME the default desktop,” blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl. “I think the tail is wagging the dog.

“Isn’t there a better way to choose the default desktop, like popularity or performance or size — you know, something we can measure?” Pogson added. “How would it be to choose the init system based on what Xfce 4 likes? See the problem? We’re doing something irrationally, without any real plan or goal in mind.”

Systemd has already threatened to render one of Pogson’s systems unbootable, he noted.

“APT could not resolve dependencies for something called systemd-shim which was held back, and my desktop depended on that damned package,” he explained. “After a few days of worry, I just deleted it and the world did not end. Even the great APT cannot deal with this.”

Long story short, “the more I learn of Systemd and how it wants to rule my life, the less I like it,” Pogson concluded.

‘They Are Very Wrong’

GNOME “has truly reached new levels of desperation by tying itself to Systemd in an attempt to seem modern, but they’ve castrated and compromised the user experience,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza opined. “The same people that made Linux popular to begin with — systems administrators — are not interested in a candy-coated UI which wastes screen space.”

Now, “Debian itself has reached new levels of desperation by trying to make itself seem hip by implementing Systemd, with much the same results,” Espinoza said.

“Most of the responses I’ve seen have been along the lines of, ‘I’ve already ditched Debian because of Systemd’ or, at best, ‘It’s OK as long as I can still install KDE,’ so this move is a bit perplexing,” he concluded. “It’s like Debian is trying to alienate the people who made it what it is today. Perhaps they believe that we cannot un-make it, but they are very wrong.”

‘I Install Xfce Anyhow’

The distro “can switch to whatever they like and it won’t matter to me since I install Xfce on my Debian desktops anyhow,” offered consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

Indeed, since Debian is “a multipurpose strong distro that is used mainly by experts and system administrators in servers, etc., I think Xfce would have been a better choice for default,” opined Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. “The users can install any other DE later, if they want to.”

It’s all a testament to the power of Red Hat, Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol suggested.

“Seriously — no one gives a damn these days about GNOME except RH and the folks that make GNOME/PA/Systemd,” Ebersol explained. “Those are the folks pushing GNOME so hard.”

In fact, “GNOME is on its last legs since everyone is distancing from it — the GTK libs are being left out, and folks are all migrating to Qt,” he added. “So, I guess it’s a victory for RH and their GNOME pushers and a backtrack for Debian.”

‘I Like GNOME’

Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone saw it differently.

“I like the GNOME environment,” Stone told Linux Girl. “It’s a very smooth-looking interface that’s difficult to compete with when it comes to eye candy.”

Other than that, “the reasoning behind the migration makes sense to me,” Stone added.

Moreover, “we have to keep in mind that this is a change of the _default_ choice — not something as drastic as removing it from the repositories,” he explained. “Fans of Xfce (which I count myself among) can still easily switch back to the environment. The same goes for MATE.

“All in all, this change gets a giant ‘Meh’ from me,” Stone concluded.

‘There Is Some Pain’

Last but not least, Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien took a big-picture view.

“What I take away from this is that there is some pain associated with major changes in a project, but if the developers keep their focus and deliver a good product, users do return,” O’Brien said.

“We saw the same thing in KDE when it went from 3.x to 4.x, and we see it now with GNOME,” he added. “I have always said that Linux users welcome innovation as long as it doesn’t change anything.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • I find it strange/funny that people are so dead set against something like systemd. I installed Arch Linux about 18 months ago (Apr 2013). At the time the Archers had just finished the full implementation of systemd. Installing Arch was a definite challenge, but I found additional info around the web to help with the task. systemd has presented NO problems whatsoever. I have arch installed on three machines now because it just works, and can be configured to be incredibly compact, or have the KDE or Gnome (or Cinnamon) desktops with libreoffice, firefox, thunderbird etc installed which really bulks it up. It still outperforms everything else I have especially on older machines. The point I’m trying to make is that systemd just works, is quick and really easy to configure with systemctl enable/disable etc. It just takes a little RTFM .. (Arch Wiki is awesome here too.)

    The Debian developers might consider talking to the Arch folks to see what they did to implement systemd. I’d suggest the Ubuntu folks do the same.

    One of the things I like about linux in general is the LSB. I try to stick to it as best I can as the consistency makes the admin work much easer. Same with systemd. Setup scripts become portable and don’t have to be re-invented to account for useless cruft like init.d et al. I personally am glad to see systemd replace all that. Like I’ve already said, it works really well, and I have no idea what bugs or errors people keep talking about. I haven’t found any (yet).

  • A sentence that begins with ""The same people that made Linux popular…" undermines its own credibililty because Linux is not popular.

    Yes, it’s popular with admins. But, in the big scheme of things, they don’t count much. Sorry.

    *Everything* that seems to matter to the anti-systemd folks should be invisible to users in any rational system. People — admins — who earn their living manipulating operating systems have a reason to be interested. But, in the end, they’re paid to suck it up.

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