It’s seeming increasingly likely that reports regarding the future of Banshee, Tomboy, and the rest of the Mono stack in the default Ubuntu desktop install are accurate. Ubuntu 12.04 will likely be the first Ubuntu release since 5.10 not to ship with any Mono apps in the default install – ending a run of 12 releases over 6 years. The decision seems to have come about during the “default apps” session at the Ubuntu Developer Summit just ended in Orlando, Florida. Prior to heavy vandalism, the only reasons cited for the change in the UDS session log are “Banshee not well maintained” and “porting music store to GTK3 is blocked on banshee ported to GTK3”. Other reasons mentioned but not in the session logs are complaints that it doesn’t work on ARM.
I’m using a lot of conjecture in this first paragraph because the “news” about the decision appeared on the blogosphere before anywhere else. The first many Banshee or Tomboy developers read about it was reading a flurry of activity on the Tweetosphere from the anti-Mono activists declaring victory.
So first, a word on the cited reasoning.
Banshee works fine on ARM, since Mono works fine on ARM. Xamarin, the company behind most upstream Mono work, earns their income almost entirely from ARM versions of Mono, running on the varied ARM implementations found in smartphones. Every major Banshee release is personally tested on my Genesi EfikaMX, an ARM system with a Freescale i.mx51 processor. I’ve also demonstrated Banshee running in an Ubuntu chroot on my HP Touchpad, an ARM-based tablet. What is known is that Banshee has some problems running on Texas Instruments OMAP4 processors – the target ARM platform for Canonical’s ARM work. None of the Banshee upstream developers, Mono upstream developers, or Mono Ubuntu team has ever been able to reproduce the cited problems, since problems specific to an exact ARM chip are impossible to reproduce without the requisite hardware – and none of us owns an ARM system matching Canonical’s target.
That Banshee is still a GTK+2 app is true. A port to GTK+3 is almost complete, but blocking on a single technical bug deep within GTK#’s guts, which could be fixed by someone with sufficient knowledge of GTK+ semantics. Nobody with the required GTK+ knowledge has stepped forward with a fix at this point in time.
As for the final point, that Banshee is not well maintained, this seems like a directed personal insult against the active and responsive Banshee maintainer, Chow Loong Jin, and upstream bug triager David Nielsen, in addition to the immeasurable hours contributed free of charge for the benefit of Ubuntu users by various other members of related Mono app and library teams, including myself.
I need to stress at this point that my annoyance with this decision has nothing to do with the actual app changes. Keeping Tomboy and gbrainy, at a cost of about 25 meg of unsquashed disk space, is a hard argument to make compared with those two plus Banshee for 40 meg. Dropping gbrainy and Tomboy, and switching to Rhythmbox, will save about 30 meg of unsquashed space, all told.I’m unconvinced that Rhythmbox is a technically superior app to Banshee – several features which were gained by the first app swap will be lost again – but that’s another long tedious argument to be had. No, what has me deeply angered is the shambolic way the changes were made and announced.
Significant accommodations were made by Banshee upstream in order to make life easier for Canonical to integrate Banshee into their OS. For one thing, that’s why the Ubuntu One Music Store support is a core Banshee feature, not part of the third-party community extensions package. If Banshee was being considered for replacement due to unresolved technical issues, then perhaps it would have been polite to, I don’t know, inform upstream that it was on the cards? Or, if Canonical felt that problems specific to their own itches required scratching, then is it completely beyond the realm of possibility to imagine they might have spent developer resources on bug fixing their OS and sending those fixes upstream? Or even – and call me crazy – providing access for upstream to specialized hardware such as a $174 Pandaboard to empower upstream to isolate and fix unreproducible bugs specific to Canonical’s target hardware?
And here’s where it gets more astonishing for me – Canonical paid money to ship one of the community-based packagers responsible for the stack, Iain Lane, to Orlando for UDS, and didn’t think it was worth bothering to perhaps inform him “hey, the stuff you work on is in danger of being axed from the default install, maybe you should go to this session”.
So I’m not cross that the stuff I work on has been removed from the default install. I intend to continue working on it as I have for the last 4 years, through my work in Debian. No, why I’m cross that I heard about it from fucking Boycott Novell.
Regardless of your opinions regarding Banshee or its stack, if you read the above and don’t see it as an abysmal failure of community engagement by a company whose community manager wrote a book on the damn topic, then there’s something seriously wrong with your understanding of how community labour should be seen as a resource. Maybe someone at Canonical should try reading Jono’s book. It’s not a first-time offence, and this mail from a PiTiVi developer regarding changes in 11.10 makes for useful further reading.
 There is some worthwhile discussion going on on the ubuntu-desktop mailing list covering the technical issues surrounding the decision, I would suggest it’s a good place for ongoing technical discussion.