Back when I was in high school, I became an avid user of Trillian, a freeware Windows instant messaging program. I decided to use it instead of AIM for two reasons: it did not have AIM's advertisements (simultaneously saving critical bandwidth on my slow dial-up connection and sticking it to the Man!) and it was multiprotocol - I could use one application to connect to AIM (to talk to my American high school friends), MSN (to talk to my British and Swedish friends), and IRC (to talk to my crazy geek hacker friends).

Gaim logo
Sometime in the transition from high school to college, I switched from Trillian to Gaim. While it was quickly becoming clear that the majority of new features in Trillian would only appear in its commercial Pro version, Gaim was free and multiplatform - a feature that would come in handy when I decided to start trying out Linux. Gaim has become one those essential pieces of software that define my computing experience. As a result, the future of the application and its development are important to me. It is with increasing chagrin and dismay that I have noted a distinct sense of apathy from its developers toward talking about the application and its features to current and potential users.

Occasionally, some Gaim user will criticize the project for the lack of news about progress toward the next release. The most recent example of this has been a massive thread on Gaim's SourceForge forums. In response to complaints about the fact that the news on the Gaim website is rarely updated, Gaim developer Etan Reisner responded:

I am not out to "satisfy at least one mildly disgruntled user", that's not my goal, my goal was to explain why updating the news page really isn't that important. That clearly hasn't worked. I can't say I'm surprised. I have never understood why people need constant updates about things that don't matter. You will know when gaim is released, either the next beta or the final release. Until then does it really matter to you what is going on? And as to why no one responded to you originally, as I've said multiple times this forum is almost totally ignored by the developers. [emphasis mine]

Why do the Gaim developers not care about updating the website or monitoring the forums? Part of the problem might be SourceForge, where the Gaim code and website are hosted. Despite the fact that it hosts hundreds of open-source projects, the website administrators have not chosen to invest much time in developing the site's community features like forums and mailing lists. While they recently added Subversion code access for projects, the majority of the website has not been redesigned since the late 1990s. I find SourceForge's interface to be bad enough that I try to spend as little time as possible on the website. This does not encourage participation in the software projects hosted there.

The issue might also be related to the fact that Gaim does not really have any competition, at least not on Linux. Most other Linux instant messaging programs have chosen not to go the multiprotocol route, instead focusing on a specific area like Jabber or VOIP. Gaim is the default instant messaging application on most Linux distributions. This state of things is not likely to change unless something significantly better comes along.

But while Gaim is the de facto standard on Linux, it does not have the same stature in Windows. Many Windows users that I know refuse to use Gaim because they think it is "ugly." Gaim uses the GTK+ Runtime Environment, which has a number of bugs. Reisner, complaining about GTK bugs:

The gaim developers have repeatedly asked for people to stand up and write a native Windows front end for libgaim to get the stupid gtk Windows bugs out of the way, no one ever does anything about it though. Adium on OS X is an example of what we want for Windows. (Note: We aren't going to write the native Windows front end, we don't care, and don't want to learn how.)

The Adium Duck.
It is ironic that Reisner brings up Adium (which uses libgaim for some of its protocols), since the Adium development team has an entirely different stance on the matter of user communication. Unlike Gaim, Adium has attempted to develop a vibrant user community. Now only do they have a blog but also forums - which the developers actually post on. If Gaim had a similar community, it is possible that the native Windows frontend - an area of programming where the Gaim developers do not have much experience - would currently be in development by one of its members. As it stands, there is more news about software based on Gaim (like Adium and ScatterChat) than Gaim development itself. As a result, people who might use Gaim choose not to.