[Pkg-xfce-devel] Reverting to GNOME for jessie's default desktop

Jordi Mallach jordi at debian.org
Thu Aug 7 21:57:33 UTC 2014

Hi Debian,

It's been around 9 months since tasksel changed (for real) the default
desktop for new installs. At the time of the change, it was mentioned
the issue would be revisited before the freeze, around debconf time.

Well, it's roughly that time. :) So I'd like to plainly request GNOME is
reinstated as the default desktop environment for a number of reasons.

Accessibility: GNOME continues to be the only free desktop environment that
provides full accessibility coverage, right from login screen. While it’s true
GNOME 3.0 was lacking in many areas, and GNOME 3.4 (which we shipped in wheezy)
was just barely acceptable thanks to some last minute GDM fixes, GNOME 3.12
should have ironed out all of the issues and our non-expert understanding is
that a11y support is now on par with what GNOME 2.30 from squeeze offered.

Downstream health: The number of active members in the team taking care of
GNOME in Debian is around 5-10 persons, while it is 1-2 in the case of Xfce.
Being the default desktop draws a lot of attention (and bug reports) that only
a bigger team might have the resources to handle.

Upstream health: While GNOME is still committed to its time-based release
schedule and ships new versions every 6 months, Xfce upstream is,
unfortunately, struggling a bit more to keep up with new plumbing technology.
Only very recently it has regained support to suspend/hibernate via logind, or
support for Bluez 5.x, for example.

Community: GNOME is one of the biggest free software projects, and is lucky to
have created an ecosystem of developers, documenters, translators and users
that interact regularly in a live social community. Users and developers gather
in hackfests and big, annual conferences like GUADEC, the Boston Summit, or
GNOME.Asia. Only KDE has a comparable community, the rest of the free desktop
projects don’t have the userbase or manpower to sustain communities like this.

Localization: Localization is more extensive and complete in GNOME.  Xfce has
18 languages above 95% of coverage, and 2 at 100% (excluding English), GNOME
has 28 languages above 95%, 9 of them being complete (excluding English).

Documentation: Documentation coverage is extensive in GNOME, with most of the
core applications providing localized, up to date and complete manuals,
available in an accessible format via the Help reader.

Hardware: GNOME 3.12 will be one of the few desktop environments to support
HiDPI displays, now very common on some laptop models. Lack of support for
HiDPI means non-technical users will get an unreadable desktop by default, and
no hints on how to fix that.

Security: GNOME is more secure. There are no processes launched with root
permissions on the user’s session. All everyday operations (package management,
disk partitioning and formatting, date/time configuration…) are accomplished
through PolicyKit wrappers.

Privacy: One of the latest focuses of GNOME development is improving privacy,
and work is being done to make it easy to run GNOME applications in isolated
containers, integrate Tor seamlessly in the desktop experience, better disk
encryption support and other features that should make GNOME a more secure
desktop environment for end users.

Popularity: One of the metrics discussed by the tasksel change proponents
mentioned popcon numbers. 8 months after the desktop change, Xfce does not seem
to have made a dent on install numbers.  The Debian GNOME team doesn’t feel
popcon’s data is any better than a random online poll though, as it’s an opt-in
service which the vast majority of users don’t enable.

systemd embracing: One of the reasons to switch to Xfce was that it didn’t
depend on systemd. But now that systemd is the default, that shouldn’t be a
problem. Also given ConsoleKit is deprecated and dead upstream, KDE and Xfce
are switching or are planning to switch to systemd/logind.

In addition to this, moving to Xfce now would mean yet another transition to
a new desktop (if we consider GNOME 2.x → 3.x a transition, which it is),
which would mean a new round of adapation for users installing Debian from
scratch, and only after two years after getting used to the GNOME 3 workflow.
jessie's GNOME 3.x release should be a lot more polished than what we shipped
with wheezy, which means many of the rough edges and annoyances people may
have found when upgrading from squeeze are probably now ironed out.

Many members of the Debian GNOME team feel shipping Xfce by default would
mean regressing in a few key areas like, as mentioned before, accessibility,
localisation and documentation of the default set of applications. We are wary
about the state of some features of the current default with respect
to power management and bluetooth, for example. These features are driven by,
and working since day 1, by GNOME 3.12.

Jordi Mallach Pérez  --  Debian developer     http://www.debian.org/
jordi at sindominio.net     jordi at debian.org     http://www.sindominio.net/
GnuPG public key information available at http://oskuro.net/
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