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November 12th, 2014

Groupon & GNOME: Doing the Right Thing

First things first: I’m not heavily invested in GNOME. In fact, once GNOME 3 came out and — gasp! — no icons on the desktop, I said “vaya con dios” and made skid marks racing to Xfce, KDE and Openbox (on the CrunchBang box) on various machines in the lab. The reason is a matter of personal taste. For the most part, I like icons on my desktop, not in a tray on the side, and I like what they do when I click on them — like, you know, open programs.

But this is not to say I haven’t used GNOME lately. In a test drive on Sunday of Fedora 21 Workstation (that’s GNOME, for those of you keeping score at home), I was reminded why GNOME was not my personal favorite. Exhibit A: I have a tendency to amass large numbers of different copied material to which I often return from time to time — not a huge deal with Klipper in KDE or Clipman in Xfce. But in the current GNOME 3-point-whatever, the clipboard is being managed way behind the scenes, and that doesn’t work for me.

gnome-logoLet me be clear, for those GNOMEistas who might just have their proverbial knickers in a bunch: GNOME has been a remarkable FOSS citizen providing a better-than-adequate desktop environment for many FOSS users, perhaps even a majority of FOSS users. I just don’t happen to be one of them. Further, I will say this for GNOME: Unity should be more like GNOME. Compliment? You decide.

So Tuesday morning, the Internet was abuzz. Groupon has a tablet based point of sale “operating system for merchants to run their entire operation” called Gnome, which is accompanied by 28 — count ’em 28 — trademark applications. With trademark not being the same as copyright, trademarks are constantly defended by owners because, well, that’s the way the system works (or doesn’t, depending on your perspective), and GNOME was in a position of having to spend a significant amount in defending its trademark, used for the last 17 years and officially trademarked in 2006.

I was at work when I found out — editing texts for a financial publisher — and to be honest, I was both infuriated and, at the same time, mentally going over my verbal arsenal in order to properly go into battle to help fight this injustice. After lining up a list of things to say for FOSS Force and other places to write about this, Groupon came to its senses: “We will choose a new name for our product going forward.”

Despite not being able to unleash a torrent of prose blasting this injustice (putting it away for another time), the great thing about what happened in this situation is that everyone did the right thing.

Groupon did the right thing:: They said, in effect, “wait a minute,” and in a joint statement with GNOME, they said, “Groupon has agreed to change its Gnome product name to resolve the GNOME Foundation’s concerns. Groupon is now abandoning all of its 28 pending trademark applications. The parties are working together on a mutually acceptable solution, a process that has already begun.”

GNOME did the right thing: In addition to fighting for their trademark — which, of course, is the right thing to do — more importantly GNOME went to the wider FOSS community with their situation to enlist their help.

Which in turn, led to the most important part of this entire equation, which is…

The wider FOSS community did the right thing: The response from the FOSS community was overwhelming. “There is something amazing about free software – it’s ethical technology but it also creates a fantastic community of people who are willing to fight for what’s right,” GNOME acknowledged in announcing the joint statement. “It’s taken us a tremendous amount of time and effort to deal with this issue in the months leading up to our announcement and it will take us a little time to regroup. We’ll keep you posted as the matter resolves fully.”

Crisis averted. Move along, nothing to see here.

Larry Cafiero, a.k.a. Larry the Free Software Guy, is a journalist and a Free/Open Source Software advocate. He is involved in several FOSS projects and serves as the publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo. Follow him on Twitter: @lcafiero

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