Where tensions between Canonical and GNOME have occurred, according to Bacon, is in Canonical's desktop innovations for improved usability, such as the Ayatana indicators for sound and social media, and the new Unity desktop, all of which were submitted to GNOME and rejected, leaving Canonical to develop them outside the GNOME project.
To Bacon, this is a potentially healthy situation, because it leaves users with at least two choices for using GNOME -- the upcoming GNOME 3.0, and Unity -- and probably a third since the GNOME 2 series is likely to be preferred by some. "It just means a new level of choice for users," Bacon says.
All the same, the tensions seem inevitable to Bacon. Asked whether Canonical could have developed its usability modifications within GNOME, he replies, "To be honest with you, I don't think it could have been done. The fact that nothing's been accepted is a pretty reasonable indicator that the two projects have widely different directions."
However, at the same time, Bacon says that "one place where Canonical could have done a better job is that we could have tried harder to get our technologies included."
Citing the insistence within GNOME that development should occur within its development infrastructure, as well as discontent with the Canonical Contributors' Agreement, Bacon adds that "the GNOME community could also have worked more towards that conclusion. When anyone who goes to a project and says, "I would like to donate this technology," we should be respectful of the gift."
Bacon also suggests that, while he does not believe hatred of Ubuntu or Canonical is widespread in GNOME, "there's been a public image of Ubuntu crafted inside the GNOME community that I think is unfair. Some people feel that just because we're pitching Unity that we're ditching GNOME -- which is frankly and totally untrue. We're still shipping GNOME technology and we're still investing in GNOME technology. Unity is a shell, and the shell is nowhere near as important as the apps."
But the real problem in the relationship between Ubuntu and GNOME, Bacon states, is a difference in values. He characterizes GNOME as having "a healthy conservatism" that allows innovation, but "doesn't optimize the way that people innovate. I feel that, in some circumstances, innovation is only welcome if it fits inside a certain set of boxes."
This attitude within GNOME conflicts with Ubuntu's rush to innovate, which Bacon describes as "an absolutely unbelievable bit between everybody's teeth and as creating "a ferocity of excitement around delivering this technology."
An even more important aspect of the relationship is that, by developing GNOME technologies by itself, Ubuntu is transforming the traditional relationship between distributions and upstream projects like GNOME. Where Ubuntu used to ship a version of GNOME that was largely what the GNOME project offered, it is now building upstream applications itself.
While some might see this change as allowing the distribution's interests to prevail over everybody else's, Bacon suggests that this change could be a healthy one, because distributions are more in touch with users' needs than upstream projects. For example, "GNOME has great insight into GNOME itself, but distributions will have great insight into how GNOME intersects with X, and how it intersects with the kernel. To me, it's not an either nor an or; upstream and distributions have to work together. Where I think things are interesting in Ayatana is that it's an upstream project born out of a distribution. I think that brings a different insight that's interesting."
As for the concern that Canonical's domination of the projects it starts or encourages could lead to a stifling of innovation, just as Sun's and Oracle's domination has handicapped OpenOffice.org, Bacon states that Canonical is too well-grounded for that to happen any time soon.
For one thing, Bacon describes technical development at Canonical as "operating in an environment that is rarely driven by corporate requirements. The vast majority of decisions about what goes into a new Ubuntu release is driven by the community and by key stakeholders. We build a version of Ubuntu, then on top of that the OEM team and the other corporate groups inside Canonical build solutions for other companies on top of that. The commercial sides of Canonical don't decide what goes into Ubuntu, because the team is reasonable insulated from those types of issues."