Renaming an application is a task not to be taken lightly, although gaim has little choice this time
The news from the project formally known as gaim over Easter was that it now wishes to be known as Pidgin. Thanks to the helpful lawyers at AOL, the open source instant messenger of choice now has a name that is not tied to a specific protocol.
Yes we all know it is multi-protocol and has been for some time, but if the project was known as gYahoo! instead, would you expect to be able to use Jabber or MSN with it? Probably not.
Pidgin is a good choice of name, it drops the protocol tie-in in the name, and also loses the library letter at the start — I'm looking at you e*, g* and k* apps — which is handy for lesser open source applications to tell you which toolkit they use, but once they start to hit the mainstream, it quickly becomes a hindrance. Just ask those of us that use The GIMP.
But what really got me thinking about this was the upgrade path for those of us already using gaim. In the Linux world, it would be foolish to expect our distribution's package manager to smoothly transition from gaim to Pidgin — I can dream though. Similarly it would not be a good idea to keep the new software within the old gaim tree or move everything over to a new pidgin tree, that would make no sense at all.
The best we can generally hope for is a warning telling us to that the project has changed its name. Although if you miss it, you may be left wondering why your version of gaim has sat at version 2.0.0_beta6 for six months until you track down the news.
On the other hand, if your application has an updating feature within it like a lot of Windows and Mac applications, how do you handle a project renaming then? Ask the user to download from the new project site, nullify the usefulness of your auto-updating tool in the eyes of the user. Or do you auto-update and have the current application disappear from view and have a new application installed with a dialog telling the user what has happened and perhaps confusing them?
Either way is not particularly appealing, and I do not have any of the answers needed. It's just one of those things in software.
At least in this instance, it has occurred prior to a major update to gaim, and it appears that they have done their homework, and will hopefully avoid the Phoenix/Firebird/Firefox naming debacle.