Clarifications regarding GNOME Online Accounts

Hi all,

Recently there has been quite a lot of debate on this mailing list
about GNOME Online Accounts. Debarshi (the Online Accounts maintainer)
and I wanted to clear up any confusion that might have resulted from
that discussion, and clarify exactly what the situation is with Online
Accounts today, as well as what is being planned for the future.

Right now, there is only one change planned for Online Accounts. This
is the removal of the “documents” source type, which is being planned
for GNOME 3.34 (due for release in September 2019). As far as we are
aware, the only application that will be affected by this change is
GNOME Documents.

The “documents” source type is primarily used by GNOME Documents to
access Google Drive. It is one of two methods through which Google
Drive can be accessed. The other is the “files” source type, which is
the more widely used of the two, and which is going to continue to be

GNOME Documents is able to use the “files” source type as an
alternative to the documents type, and can be converted so that it can
continue to access Google Drive [1].

The “documents” source type is also used by GNOME Documents to access
Microsoft OneDrive, and there is no replacement planned for this.
However, the existing OneDrive support isn’t in fantastic shape (it
uses of an old API and has only received very minimal maintenance), so
we only see this as a minor regression..

There are no plans to retire any of the other source types.

That’s the main substance of what has been proposed recently: there is
one proposed change for GNOME 3.34, which we think will only affect a
single application.

The other aspect of GNOME Online Accounts that has been discussed is
which applications it can be used by. Strictly speaking, GNOME Online
Accounts has only ever been intended for use by GNOME applications.
The reason for this is simple: any app using GNOME Online Accounts
uses GNOME’s API keys to access online services. In order to ensure
that those keys continue to work, we have to conform to service
providers’ terms and conditions, and that means restricting access to
only our own software.

If this is news to you, then we are genuinely sorry. Effort was put
into communicating the role of GNOME Online Accounts (it’s documented
on the wiki [2], and there has been a blog post [3], and we’ve tried
to have conversations with developers about it when necessary), but
this clearly wasn’t enough, and we should have done a better job.
We’re going to add details to the API docs so the guidelines are
better advertised in the future [4].

We also want to emphasise that there are no plans to enforce the
existing policy around which apps can use GNOME Online Accounts. As
far as we are concerned, GNOME Online Accounts will continue to
function as it has done since it was first introduced.

If your application already uses GNOME Online Accounts, it can
continue to do so. If you are currently in the process of adding
Online Accounts support to an application, or are interested in adding
it, then you can continue to work on it, although we would encourage
you to get in touch with Debarshi, if you haven’t already.

We realise that this does not provide complete clarity around GNOME
Online Accounts, and this is something that we will work towards
during the next development cycle (3.33.x). Having discussed this,
we’ve identified three things that will be needed:

 - A clear framework for defining “GNOME software”. This isn’t
something we can provide ourselves, but we understand that the GNOME
Foundation is working on it.
 - A technical design for managing access to online accounts,
particularly for sandboxed applications.
 - An updated design for the Online Accounts service, which will
follow on from an evaluation of potential architectures [5].

If anyone wants to participate in these lines of enquiry, you’d be very welcome.

Once we have a proposal we’ll present it for feedback and discussion.
If new arrangements do come into effect, there will be plenty of
advance notice, and we’ll do our best to provide migration paths
should they be necessary.

We hope that this helps to clarify where we are today, and we hope
that it goes some way to addressing concerns that people might have.
We’re happy to answer any questions, either here or privately.

Many thanks,


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