Next week I’m speaking at the South Tyrol Free Software Conference where the theme is “free software for innovative business.” If you are in the area, you should come – the conference is free and has good speakers and lots of interesting attendees.
I know you are traditionally supposed to post the transcript of your talk after you give it. However, any feedback I get between now and then can only make the talk better. Also, the real talk, in person, with voice, slides and a chance to ask questions is very different experience than reading it in a blog and commenting. So I think one does not compete with the other.
Here’s my talk. As always, comments and questions welcome.
GNOME as the computing platform of the future
Often when people talk about open source software businesses they immediately think about companies like Jboss or MySQL, companies that developed open source software products and then had tremendously successful exits. (Jboss
was acquired for $350 million, MySQL for $800 million.) But these are just a few of the companies that are successful because of open source. They are software companies, open source software companies. But many other companies are also doing well because of open source software. Here’s a few you may not have thought of:
- Supersonic Imagine. They make scanners that detect breast cancer. They save people’s lives. They
are in the medical business. Medical instruments, not software, and they use open source software (some GNOME technologies) to develop products that create successful businesses and save lives.
- Garmin Nuvo. Here’s a company that also sells a product solution, not software, although software is
very much a part of their solution. Their technology is enabled by open source software. Again there is GNOME technology in this GPS device. How do I know that? Not because they contacted GNOME and bought a support agreement. No, all their use of and support for open source has gone through normal GNOME channels, primarily source code repositories and mailing lists or a third party. We know because they made their source code public and one of the GNOME developers looked at it and saw they were using GNOME.
- Mobile devices. Well, maybe you would have thought about this one. Most of the new mobile devices
from Nokia’s tablets to school science devices are using open source software on them. In this case GNOME technologies enable companies to build on existing technologies, changing them and modifying them to meet their needs. This way they get to market faster (without reinventing the wheel), build on existing solutions and enable others to cooperate and work with them, enhancing and strengthening their solutions. As an example, when I went to the Maemo Summit (Maemo is the what the software on Nokia tablets is called â€“ it uses GNOME) I saw non-Nokia people present solutions translating for doctors, letting police officers use tablets and some really unique note taking, personal journaling solutions.
I’ve also seen small consulting companies spring up to help larger businesses use open source they way they need to. They might provide assistance or customization or complete solutions.
So all these companies â€“ and many more – successfully use GNOME technologies to improve their business. How does that work? What is GNOME and what about it makes it good for businesses and society?
I think in order to understand what’s important about GNOME, you have to look at what GNOME is and how and why GNOME was written.So what is GNOME? GNOME is … a desktop, a development platform, a mobile solution toolkit, with some key characteristics like accessible, internationalized, easy to use. It’s also a lot of applications from music players to email clients.
Why was GNOME written? To create a free and open source desktop for the world. Over time that has evolved from desktop as in traditional desktop like the machine on your desk at home to everything from your laptop to your cell phone to even your car with its onboard navigation.
How was it written? By the community. Like traditional open source software, GNOME spans from a core group
of committers to a group of users.
At the core we have people that write the source code â€“ the committers. These are the people that actually wrote the project. However, however much work they do, they don’t do it all alone.
The next group is people that make contributions â€“ they make code suggestions to the committers or they may contribute in other ways like marketing or answering questions on the mailing list or supporting the systems or answering questions on the mailing lists.
For example, one of the things that GNOME contributors do is man GNOME booths at conferences. They get an event
box â€“ that was put together by a contributor, man the booth for the conference and then send the event box back or on to the next event.
But committers and contributors are not all there is. There is also a large user base. Users are very important. They spread the word of the project and contribute ideas as well as bug fixes â€“ in a sense they are all testers.
Unlike many open source software projects, GNOME works really well with companies. It’s one of its strengths. Some of the ways we work with companies:
- Community is open to companies. The community is excited and willing to listen to businesses that would like to use GNOME. When we found out Garmin was using GNOME, many people blogged and talked about it. The breast scanner company was invited to our annual conference, GUADEC.
- 6 month release cycles. Seems very simple but it’s very crucial to companies and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. Companies need to know when a release is coming out that will contain the feature or patch they need. They used released versions, not the top of the unreleased stack. By knowing when releases are coming out, and being able to depend on that date, they can build plans of their own.
- Accessibility/internationalization. Several of our core goals help companies meet their customer requirement.
One thing to note is that while companies are part of the GNOME community, their participation is different. They participate by building solutions with and on GNOME technologies. They hire people who work on GNOME and become part of the GNOME community and they can sponsor the GNOME Foundation and participate on the GNOME advisory board. All GNOME project technical decisions are made by the community â€“ they have a release team that
runs the releases and what goes in them.
All these people the community â€“ committers and users alike â€“ as well as the companies, have shared values:
- Access to all
- Easy to use
- Working well with companies
- Having fun
These values are important to creating a common culture. All open source software projects and communities have a unique culture. Some have lots of flaming and arguments, others are very welcoming. Keep in mind that strong communities build strong projects. These shared GNOME values create the welcoming, productive and dedicated community of GNOME. Please come join us as a user or as a contributor.
So where do we go from here? GNOME has a great community, lots of developers, contributors and users. It’s deployed on 14 million systems world wide, it has great foundations, it’s internationalized, accessible, and easy to use and has a good format for working with companies with its advisory board and six month release cycles. So where do we go from here?
We will continue to make our desktop easy to use and accessible to all.
In GNOME 3.0 we will focus on user experience among other things. As people use the internet and web 2.0 apps more, what they expect from their desktop will be different. We need to make sure the world of the internet and your personal device â€“ be it a laptop, netbook or phone â€“ interact seemlessly as you expect them to.
Speaking of netbooks. Netbooks are taking off â€“ they are providing affordable computing to people. Eee PCs along will bring 2.4 million more users to the Linux desktop this year. GNOME Mobile â€“ GNOME technologies are used in many of the worlds leading mobile phone brands. Building on open source technologies enables them not only to get to market faster but to offer cheaper and more open solutions â€“ I believe it is netbooks and cellular phones that will reach most of the world before the traditional desktop. 100% penetration in Europe. Most of the developing country will have cell phones before they have reliable power.
Multimedia. People are changing the way they interact with their computer and they are also changing the way they use their computer. Videos, through sites like YouTube, are extremely popular these days. People have the ability to make their own. Virtually everyone in the developing world has access to a video camera. How many of you have a cell that will take video? It’s replacing tv and pictures. Not to mention music, podcasts, etc.
The world is changing and you need free and open source software to keep up. You can’t afford to develop an application from scratch and you can’t build a business without participation from everyone. Users want to be creative â€“ they want
to interact with their applications. Using GNOME as your computing platform and development platform gives you want you need to build the businesses of the future and gives your customers what they need to live fruitful lives.