What would you say about the State of GNOME?

Against my dad's best advice, I'm going to admit that I don't feel like I'm the best person to give a "State of GNOME" talk. I mean, it's an open source project. I don't run it, I don't manage it and people not only don't ask me for permission to do things, they don't make a point of making sure I know everything. And that's good! I find out most of my GNOME news the way everyone else does – through blogs, mailing lists and wiki's. We are an effective open source software project and communication is good. That said, I'm happy to help spread the word of all the good things GNOME is up to. (And if you'd like to help too, please join the GNOME Marketing team!)

So, here's what I think I will say about the State of GNOME talk the Collaboration Summit this week. Feel free to add points in the comments or point me to more info. (If you are going to be at the Collaboration Summit and would like to help give this presentation as a member of GNOME or help with QA, let me know!)

The GNOME desktop is alive and well. Despite rumors that everyone and everything is moving to the browser, the desktop is here to stay.

It is true that the desktop is evolving. People are using their desktop differently. You have netbooks, smartphones, multiple desktops, online apps, … so what people expect and need out of their desktop is now different. (And to be honest, most users don't care about their desktop. They care about their email or their social network or the app they use for work. And the desktop or their phone or their netbook just gets them there. You care a little bit, like you care what kind of shoes you wear or what kind of car you drive, but most of the time, you just want it to work painlessly and easily.)

Luckily there are a lot of people who think about the desktop a lot. They make sure it works really well for all the others that just need it to access their stuff. Who are these people? Volunteers, free software lovers, passionate developers, translators and designers determined to make technology accessible to all.

The GNOME community has 2000+ contributors. 400 of those are members of the GNOME Foundation. 300-500 come together every year for GUADEC. 40% of them are paid to work on GNOME, the other 60% do it on their own time. The 40% are paid by lots of different companies. These 20 sponsor the GNOME Foundation – the list continues to grow and there are companies outside of this list that hire GNOME developers.

All these people the community –
contributors and users alike – as well as the companies, have
a shared mission and values. Although the GNOME mission is articulated in many different ways by different people, it's basically to provide a free and open desktop platform for the world, accessible to all regardless of ability, financial resources or nationality. And by desktop, I mean your interface to your technology. GNOME also applies to netbooks and smartphones.

The values of the GNOME community have been clearly defined and articulated over time:

  • Accessibility. I've had a chance to work a bit with the a11y folks lately – they're a great team.
    Accessibility means making sure the technology you have works for you,
    regardless of whether you can hear the beeps that you have new mail
    (maybe it flashes at you instead), regardless of whether you can read
    that size 8 font document someone sent you (what were they thinking? –
    at least you can easily magnify it), regardless even if you can double
    click your mouse.  And much, much more. They have screencasts online. We're going to have 2-3 summer interns from HFOSS working on GNOME a11y this summer.

  • Internationalized. GNOME is internationalized into many, many languages and the number grows – daily it seems. Recently the GNOME board was contacted by someone from Nigeria who wanted someone from GNOME to go speak at an open source conference in Nigeria. I have to admit that we (especially me) were skeptical at first but it turns out they even have a GNOME Users Group in Nigeria that's been translating GNOME!

  • Easy to use. A lot of what you see in GNOME 3.0 is intended to make GNOME easier to use. GNOME also places importance on making smart default choices for the user.

  • Beauty. Beauty as in look good but also as in function well, elegantly, simply.

  • Working well with companies. GNOME has a long tradition of working well with companies and has developed things like 6 month release cycles and the GNOME Foundation Advisory Board to maintain those working relationships.

  • Having fun!

GNOME 3.0. A state of GNOME talk would not be complete without mentioning GNOME 3.0! We announced GNOME 3.0 last week. Actually it was announced at GUADEC last summer but there's been a lot of activity kicked off last week by the release team. (And you can read the whole account on the Planning for 3.0 website.)

In the Planning document, the release team first addresses vision – GNOME 3.0 needs an overall vision for the entire GNOME project. "What we are missing is people blessing one specific vision and making
it official, giving goals to the community so we can all work together
in the same direction." These days GNOME includes not "just" the desktop but a lot of applications. We need a vision and a direction for the entire GNOME project.

They called out 3 areas of focus for GNOME 3.0:

  • User Experience
  • Streamlining of the Platform
  • Promotion of GNOME

On the user experience side they focused on two projects:

  • GNOME Shell is a new way of managing your panels, launching applications, finding documents, etc.
  • Document management. GNOME Zeitgeist is a new way of finding documents. The days of carefully storing documents into organized folders are over for most people. Zeitgeist adds most recently opened, tags, comments, location, etc to help you find your data.

On the steam lining side of things, the release team is working on deprecating old stuff in an organized fashion while adding new technologies like Clutter and support more languages like Javascript.

Promotion is primarily marketing. Promoting GNOME, attracting new developers, highlighting applications (I'd guess that most people don't think of applications when they think of GNOME), launching a much needed redesigned website.

Other changes the release team called out as worth mentioning:

  • Desktop Testing which was launched recently.
  • Art/Design. There's been lots of work on theming (like at the GTK+ Theming Hackfest) and we hope to have good collaboration between developers and designers.
  • People and social networking. A lot of work has gone into the telepathy framework enabling interaction not only between people and apps but between people.
  • Mobile:
    the GNOME Mobile platform was first introduced in GNOME 2.24 and since then a lot of the work GNOME developers have done has been towards making desktop technologies function well in the mobile space – devices with small screens, limited processing or alternate input methods like touch screens.

So come join us in developing the future of the desktop. We need everyone from coders to designers, from testers to writers, from promoters to users.

What would you add to the State of GNOME?

11 Replies to “What would you say about the State of GNOME?”

  1. First, I think if you want to help market Gnome you should start with an official Gnome user forum like ubuntu-forums.org but located at http://forums.gnome.org. User’s don’t like mailing lists. I think this would also help developers get a lot of user input and connect the two better.
    Secondly, Gnome 3.0 doesn’t seem like it’s going to be all that great of a release for the end-user. It’s seems to affect the developer more directly and the end-user more indirectly. Personally, I’m not a big fan of Gnome-Shell and that’s a drastic change that could go very badly if not done right. I would make sure to get a lot more feedback on it from users.
    Lastly, I think Gnome 3.0 should be about People and I think they should make it the “People’s Release.” By this I mean make Gnome as easy as possible to connect to people (mingle/jingle, telepathy integration, sharing desktops, document collaboration, meta-contacts using project-people, etc). Make the desktop to where it’s like your friends and family are virtually sitting right next to you. Otherwise, just keep calling it Gnome 2.30 because from a marketing perspective 3.0 is not going to be all that great for the end user and that’s exactly what the press will say.

  2. Wow, those a11y screencast were great. Fast and simple way to learn about this important area. Willie did a amazing job on those. Maybe something we could bring to other areas in GNOME as well.

  3. /zeitgeist (now that it has joined with Mayanna) is a great project, but I hate the interface. Tags (intrinsic and applied) and timelines are an awesome way to find files, but I think Gnome should look at a combination browser viewer in a model like F-Spot, which handles all that information very well already.

  4. Nice post, Stormy. “Localized into” sounds better to my ear than “internationalized into”. But I like the analysis, it’s honest and positive.

  5. While we’re at it, can we solve the false L10n/i18n tie-in? Using American English doesn’t mean that I’m in the US, just as using Korean doesn’t mean that I’m in Korea and want to use Korean won instead of $DENOMINATION.

  6. Actually I’m going to put the cat among the pigeons here and say that I like the way Gnome is now. It simply works 😀
    KDE 4 in while opinion (like it carries much weight) is better in terms of usability that KDE 3 series was.
    If you are serious about Gnome 3, then the first thing is to find out what the end user (not the developers) likes about Gnome, and how they use it. To me Gnome is like OSX and KDE is like Windows (I know, I know flame bait but its not intentional).
    I like Gnome simply because it allows me to work. I have my apps and I am off. KDE 3 was to tinkery for me personally and it kinda got in my way as I’d be tweaking this, changing that. And its a big plus that I prefer the foot to gears 😀 just my pennies worth.

  7. You’re right ReinoutS. I would of imagined that forums would be under community rather than support when given the option of both of them. Also it doesn’t stand out that much. I think the layout should be made more like http://library.gnome.org/devel/ rather than have one small link in the body of the text. I’d imagine a lot more users make the same mistake I just did. 😛

  8. I’m glad Gnome is looking to evolve the interface and user interaction…
    Being stable and easy to use has meant being stuck with the same old look and feel, which while consistent and predictable, and of solid quality, is neither inspirational nor improving the user experience. Yes we can criticize KDE / Windows / etc. as they move forward roughly, but let’s not let our criticism of approach result in us ignoring that they are moving forward.
    I can appreciate the fears of change; but let us consider the resistance to moving away from DOS, there are those that didn’t want the disruption of those fancy new GUI interfaces, but in hindsight it clearly changed the ease of working with computers, and contributed to the pace of innovation and penetration of computers in every aspect of our lives.
    Perhaps Gnome 3.0 is not the major a change as text to GUI, and some are happy with the way things are; but in adopting evolution over revolution we have forgotten that at times we need to leap in order to keep moving forward (as evolution also works by killing off the weak and unmotivated).
    So what is the state of gnome – we have a solid desktop, that has proven its usability and value, that has enabled a solid, predictable, easy to use experience across a number of platforms… and to re-energize and inspire, to ensure continued relevance and progress of that platform, we are leaping forward, leaving the unmaintainable cruft behind, and integrating in the innovative ideas of people to interact with files and applications, and more importantly how the platform enables us to interact with other people.
    So Gnome 3.0 won’t be an end goal in it of itself, but rather the start of a period where free apps are no longer just strong, capable, and libre… but free apps are polished user experiences, where the desktop fades into the background, allowing us to focus on the content of our lives, our documents, photos, music, and most importantly interacting with out friends, families, and colleagues.
    Gnome 3.0 isn’t about creating the future… but about enabling it.

  9. Interestingly, what has disturbed me about current Internet applications is that often it feels like selling yourself and your information to some corporation in exchange for a little entertainment or attention, sell your soul to get something for free (as in cost)…
    In thinking about the value of what is out there, the notions of tagging your data, of sharing and exchanging ideas, experiences, or knowledge… it has made information more available, easier to find (in part), easier to share; and it has increased the ways we can find and interact with others, especially those who are physical strangers, or those who are neighbours who we have never met, it builds new notions of community and relationships in a world that is moving so quickly that it has left the traditional sense of relationship and community behind.
    So Gnome 3.0 really align well with this new era… making data easier to find, and people easier to interact with, it is about sharing and community on a more global scale (with a little sexy polish to boot).
    It brings this to us without the cost of locking our data into the closed cloud or to platforms which tell us they are more important than the ideas and relationships they enable; the freedom of code allows us to bring these benefits to any device, form factor, or solution… creativity and potential unlocked.
    Gnome 3.0 is an exciting time for our users.

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