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On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

By Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier on August 28, 2007 (9:00:00 PM)

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It seems like just yesterday that the GNOME Project got its start, but actually it was a decade ago that Miguel de Icaza got the ball rolling. While de Icaza has largely focused his time on Mono recently, the GNOME community has kept making progress. To get some perspective on GNOME's history, I spoke to de Icaza and longtime GNOME contributor and GNOME Foundation board member Jeff Waugh.

GNOME got started on August 15, 1997, when de Icaza announced the GNU Network Object Model Environment (GNOME). According to de Icaza, GNOME would be "a free and complete set of user friendly applications and desktop tools, similar to CDE and KDE but based entirely on free software."

De Icaza says that today, GNOME has more than met his expectations. "It definitely achieved the goals that we set for ourselves back then: to create a desktop and a suite of applications that would enable free software to be a viable alternative.

"But there have been a few twists, some good ones, and some challenging ones (and luckily, no bad ones).... One of the good ones is that the project has branched into many new directions that we had not originally planned for and were just great side effects of the software being open source.

"The challenging component is that personal computers became ubiquitous, and with this ubiquity came many new developments and improvements that end users expected to have: better usability, more functionality, accessibility support, polished applications, consistent applications, good-looking applications, better interoperability, special requirements for the different classes of users (home, small businesses, governments, education, enterprise).

"In my opinion the community has been able to adapt both to the new needs and also has been able to integrate well with other third-party pieces of software to package all the pieces together that make up a complete system."

However, de Icaza says he is disappointed that Gtk+ has not lured more third-party developers. "Sadly neither [Gtk+ nor Qt] has managed to create a very large ecosystem of third-party component vendors that distribute plug-and-play components that are ready to use. This is something that Microsoft has really excelled at and to a lesser extent Java. This is probably something that could have improved."

He does say that the toolkits "have aged well," citing the addition of Cairo in Gtk+, which gives "developers many tools to create a whole new series of better looking applications, and it lowered the barrier for creating stunning applications."

In addition, de Icaza says that efforts are afoot to improve Gtk+ so it can "cope with things that are starting to become commonplace, like built-in support for storylines and animations."

What GNOME has achieved

Despite a lack of third-party developers, GNOME has solidified into a mature desktop environment with lots of usable applications over the past 10 years. However, Waugh says that GNOME has gone beyond a usable desktop.

First, Waugh says that GNOME has embraced the idea that "software freedom is not just for geeks." According to Waugh, GNOME "changed the game on FLOSS usability" and listened to the non-geek users "we knew we were failing with complicated, unhelpful software, and made GNOME better for everyone in the process.

"Since GNOME 2.0, we've put user experience at the top of our agenda, focusing on usability, accessibility, and internationalization. I believe the successes we're seeing with Ubuntu's growth and appearance on Dell hardware, Novell's desktop shipping on Lenovo laptops, and Red Hat's commitment to OLPC and their upcoming Global Desktop project are a direct result of the underlying user experience platform -- GNOME -- taking usability seriously."

Not only is GNOME more usable, it's more predictable. Waugh says that GNOME has proved that "FLOSS release management can be predictable and reliable, even more so than proprietary software: GNOME ships every six months, and we've done it for years."

This may not seem like a big deal to folks who've followed GNOME and FOSS development, but Waugh says it has had a major impact for GNOME and other projects.

"Firstly, it means we can deliver worthwhile, iterative features on a regular schedule, without having huge feature drops that take forever to test and ship, and put the burden of training and refamiliarisation on our users. It means developers know when they can do new development, and when they need to focus hard on bug fixing and testing -- a clear window for the 'fun stuff' and making sure it's good enough for our users. It means our partners who distribute GNOME in products can plan ahead, knowing that we will deliver. Projects such as Ubuntu and Fedora have even built their release schedules around ours. Finally, it has been inspiration for many other FLOSS projects to adopt a similar release strategy and process -- and that has had a huge impact on the entire FLOSS ecosystem."

Waugh also lauds the scope of contributors to GNOME. "GNOME is not just a bunch of people making a desktop. We have people from every layer in the software stack participating to make the entire user experience better, from kernel developers working on performance and power management, to infrastructure and platform developers making X and our toolkits do magical things with hardware and bling, to accessibility and interface engineers growing our audience, through to application developers creating great tools for our users."

Greater than the sum of its parts

The project has also brought with it infrastructure that benefits not just GNOME, but the entire desktop stack on Linux. For instance, de Icaza points out that "some components reached out into other areas that were not even related to the desktop (the system libraries for instance were useful also for non-desktop-related activities) and the desktop and desktop components were repurposed for many interesting scenarios, from embedded devices to the OLPC effort."

Waugh credits GNOME with building "much of the infrastructure beneath modern FLOSS desktop systems. GNOME developers spearheaded efforts such as D-Bus, HAL, NetworkManager, Cairo, and GStreamer, crucial technologies that allow us to deliver rocking software to our users."

And GNOME isn't just a desktop these days. Waugh notes that GNOME has also moved beyond the desktop to mobile and embedded systems.

Where's GNOME going?

It's interesting to look back at where GNOME came from, and what's been accomplished since its humble beginnings in 1997 -- but most users are more interested in where GNOME will be going.

Though de Icaza is no longer directly involved with GNOME development, he says his work on Mono, and that of the rest of his team at Novell, "pretty much revolves around the goals from 10 years ago." He says he keeps in touch with GNOME developers, but "mostly with those who are using the APIs and tools that we are creating, like the Banshee Media Music Player, the F-Spot manager, and the Bater collaboration tool."

Mono, he says, "has a strong story to support Gtk+-based development" through the Gtk# bindings and the MonoDevelop IDE. "MonoDevelop today has superb support for GNOME application developers. We tried to add support for creating full products with it: from allowing developers to create applications, libraries, design their user interfaces with it, maintain the metadata for the applications (.desktop file editing, schemas) to internationalization, all in an integrated IDE."

From inside the project, Waugh predicts "massive, incremental modernisation" of the GNOME platform in the near term. "It has served us very well over the last five years, but we are starting to hit some walls, and beginning the process of smashing them down."

He also says that the GNOME user experience will be seeing "substantial changes" thanks to infrastructure work done over the last few years on X.org, compositing management, the Cairo 2-D graphics library, and other components.

Waugh predicts that the GNOME Mobile platform is going to see "increasing adoption," and go toe to toe with Symbian and Microsoft. "Millions will be using GNOME without necessarily knowing it, and the already very healthy commercial ecosystem around the GNOME Mobile platform will grow even faster as a result."

On the desktop side, Waugh says growth will continue for GNOME, but uptake will be greater "where Microsoft doesn't monopolize the desktop market, and where there is greater appreciation for software freedom, such as developing nations." He says GNOME will flourish in markets where Microsoft dominates, but "it will take more time to hit critical mass."

Though GNOME's "birthday" has passed, the celebration will continue. Waugh says that GNOME contributors are working on a "scrapbook wiki" to document GNOME's history (with the "usual irreverence and energy") and "a commemorative cookbook of 'open source' recipes from GNOME folks around the world.

"We're hoping it will express the culture, freedom, artistry, and worldwide scope of the GNOME project, and go some way toward explaining the process and value of software freedom to people who aren't deeply into computing."

Ultimately, Waugh says that GNOME's path will be "an evolution of the vision we had 10 years ago: software freedom.

"Not just for geeks. Not just for laptops or desktops. Not just for the physically able. Not just for those who can read English. not just for those in the 'First World.' The GNOME community aims to create the user experience platform that delivers software freedom to everyone."

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on On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

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On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.86.130.164] on August 28, 2007 10:44 PM
Congratulations on the past 10 years and many more to come!

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Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.236.163.214] on January 25, 2008 04:33 PM
Gnomie is my Homie! Congrats on 10 years!

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On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.8.164.184] on August 29, 2007 01:28 AM
Nice writeup! By the way, the collaboration tool Miguel mentioned is "Banter", not "Bater".

http://live.gnome.org/Banter

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On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.188.137.121] on August 29, 2007 01:39 AM
Congratulations to everyone at GNOME. Heres looking forward to bigger and better things.

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On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.102.137.33] on August 29, 2007 04:17 AM
de Icaza is a Microsoft tool. He sold out years ago.

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On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.48.176.21] on August 29, 2007 09:07 AM
Lots of Gnome applications? The only Gnome application I can think of is Evolution. The rest of applications a Gnome user typically uses are just GTK. That should tell you something about the Gnome development platform

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Re: On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.10.110] on August 29, 2007 09:53 AM

A GTK+ application is for all intents and purposes a GNOME application. We've been working very hard to get rid of the (nowadays) unused and deprecated stuff in the GNOME Platform (such as Bonobo) and pushing relevant stuff further down into the platform, i.e. GTK+.



The old GTK+ vs. GNOME application distinction basically does not exist anymore, due to the desires of both the GTK+ and GNOME platform developers (who are substantially the same people, too).



- Jeff

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On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 62.58.36.57] on August 29, 2007 09:45 AM
the GNOME desktop is too dumbed down for my taste. Besides, the non-object-oriented (actually pseudo-OO) development model just blows my mind. It makes GTK not flexible at all, and hard to build custom UI elements on.

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Re: On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.40.190.145] on August 29, 2007 07:11 PM
GNOME is only as dumbed down as you want it to be. You can customize it in any way you see fit. Don't be mad just because configuration menus don't litter the screen.

Also, GTK+ is fully object oriented. I don't know what tools you're using, but every OO language under the sun has direct bindings to the GTK+ C libraries, if you'd prefer an OO syntax native to your favorite language. If you'd like to use the bare C, but aren't very good at it (as is suggested by the ignorance of your post), check out Vala.

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On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.246.171.181] on August 29, 2007 03:09 PM
Congratulations!

Since the moment I discovered Linux, I've mainly been using GNOME and I really like the way it feels.
However, to absolutely new users, or new potential developers I think KDE is more appealing. Just compare the GNOME website with the KDE website. To me the GNOME website is rather boring, purely textual and not very accessible to very new users. I'd suggest to fix the project's website, bringing it to a KDE-alike level to make sure no-one will get turned down by the lack of "obvious" , accessible and appealing online documentation for users and developers.

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On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 83.43.192.143] on August 29, 2007 03:15 PM
There some points in Icaza and Waugh I'd like to point at and discuss. To me, it seem like their are trying to sell something. They speak like a door to door vendor.

First, a predictable agenda is something gorgeous for a company who tries to make money from products based in Gnome. That's right. But it has a disastrous side-effect: it kills innovation. Linux is no more than the 4% of the desktop market share so the strategy is not to evolve but to offer a revolutionary project. Anyone wanting an stable product can stay with his actual solution, if someone moves it is because he founds in Linux (and its desktop) something so appealing that makes the move worth to try. If there is nothing but what one already has it has no meaning. everything turns into spending money. By contrast, in KDE 4 series an revamped PIM structure is going to offer something very appealing for many small industries. This is going to be achieved rethinking it again. It's just the opossite model and the one I thinks its the appropriated.

Second, let Waugh explain in detail how can be achieve a 'massive' though 'incremental modernization of Gnome platform'. Then direct him to Gnome's people critics (and maybe I his owns words too) about KDE 4.0 development.

Third, Gtk+ has very few thing to offer in terms of development and that can explain the 'lack' of what Gnome's people talk. Qt from series 4 on becomes multi-platform and from now on has a lot to offer.

Finally, Lenovo, Dell and others decisions about Linux hasn't been achieved ONLY thanks to Gnome. Too much of auto-complacency here. Aren't they more an strategic move (Ubuntu may be the first in user's ranks) rather than the best option (and I can name better distros)?

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On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.88.249.34] on August 29, 2007 04:55 PM
I used KDE for most of all my early Linux experience, I really had a distaste for Gnome. Even when going to Ubuntu I went to Kubuntu. That changed when I upgraded to the lastest Ubuntu and decided to try Gnome again. I was presently surprised. It has never errored out and works great. While I still like KDE, I just don't have the time to meddle with it to get it to work or for the menu to update when I install an application. Gnome is great for the user who just wants his/her desktop to just work. I have been more productive with Gnome because I spend more time working and less time trying to get it to work. While we have been using Linux servers for years, the latest Ubuntu with Gnome made me think I may be albe to migrate the users!

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Re: On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.189.109.113] on September 01, 2007 08:07 AM
Besides the KDE vs Gnome dilemma Miguel de Icaza made a great contribution to the linux community at large and that has not to be understated. Without projects like these many millions of people would not even had known the joy of a Unix like system on their desktops, Kudos Miguel and Linux contributors for such a wonderful project you've made open source software available to people who otherwise would have been forced to use M$ software. The competition between Kde and Gnome has led to a more usable interface in both desktop environments and that is a great accomplishment.

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Re: On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.143.240.60] on September 03, 2007 09:56 AM
I went the other way on that. My progression of window managers/desktop environments was FVWM 95, Afterstep, Window Maker, Enlightenment, and from there to GNOME 1.x, which I used for a number of years thereafter. I found versions of KDE through 2.x to be repulsive. The icons, etc., were IMO just plain fugly and GTK & GNOME apps worked better for me as well. There was also the Free/non-Free issue in those days, since when KDE started out, Qt was non-free. Trolltech later resolved those issues to my satisfaction, but by then I was a happy GNOME user. Then, KDE 3.0 happened. I heard some good buzz about it and tried it out of curiosity. It was a huge leap forward over GNOME, and I through GNOME overboard for KDE not long after. Fast foward to 2003 when Ubuntu went into public beta. I tried it out (was running Debian Sid at the time) and liked it so much that I made it (with KDE) my standard distro. However, my experience with GNOME when initially trying Ubuntu was that GNOME had just gone in the wrong direction. I found the 2.x series to be far less usable than the 1.x series, and even less visually attractive.

Sure, KDE borrows some design stuff from MSFT, and some (but not enough, IMO) from Apple, but there's nothing wrong with doing that when those ideas work well and/or are what users may expect. GNOME, on the other hand, clearly goes its own way, but it left me with the very strong impression that their overriding design consideration is "Don't do it the way anyone else does it, no matter what." That may be overstated for the sake of rhetoric, but that's the feeling it gives me. I think GNOME has contributed much in its 10 years of existence and still continues to serve the very valuable function of a viable opposition party, but in terms of something I'd actually use, well, eesh, KDE is way ahead and pulling farther away all the time.

Some of those who are MSFT-supporting anti-Linux FUDdites like to criticize what they perceive as duplication of effort, and for the most part it's just FUD. It's our diversity that makes us strong. However, I think that in the case of GNOME Vs. KDE, they kind of have a point. GNOME is well behind KDE in terms of usability, and when Qt became Free that removed GNOME's entire raison d'etre, since GNOME would never have happened if Qt had been Free from the get-go. I know it'll never happen - there's too much water under the bridge for that - but the best thing that could happen for the adoption of Linux on the desktop would be for GNOME and KDE to merge, with KDE being the surviving entity.

Doubtless, some will call this flamebait or a troll, and some will call me an idiot (unless they use KDE <g>), but I've been using Linux on the desktop for ten years and have seen a lot during that time. I honestly believe the GNOME has not only outlived its raison d'etre but also most of its usefulness, and the adoption of desktop Linux could be speeded if developers of applications only had to write KDE apps. It may be FUD spinning when MSFT boosters say things like that, but the fact that it's FUD doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong, either. In fact, if that actually happened, it would be their worst nightmare.

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On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: unknown] on September 07, 2007 12:07 PM
I totally agree, pooling their efforts would be great, I have tried both and cannot get by with gnome. I forced my self to use ubuntu for 6 months before going back to kubuntu. I then didtched this for PCLOS, which is who I donate too, they have a remarkable thing going, I see huge potential with them.

The only downside to merging would be the loss of choice, and like it or not choice is what makes linux strong. i.e. you don't like what ya got, change it then. Something Apple or MS don't have.

I believe it may speed up desktop development but to what loses, but one things for sure, the tools in KDE delevopment far surpass the gnome ones for ease of use.

I think evolution will lead KDE to the stronger position, but gnome will always exist just like the other leightweight desktops LXDE / XFCE who have found a niche, they just need to clarify what their niche is to survive, KDE's is mainstream OS Desktop.

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On GNOME's 10th anniversary, de Icaza and Waugh look back, ahead

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