staring into the abyss

I suppose I can’t just leave my last post standing there as-is. I’ll start by listing a bunch of things I consider facts about the GNOME project. I don’t want to talk about solutions here, I just want to list them, because I don’t think they are common knowledge. People certainly don’t seem to talk about them a lot.

core developers are leaving GNOME development.

The most recent examples are Emmanuele and Vincent. Both cite the need to look for something different, there is no hard feelings.

GNOME is understaffed.

This is hard to explain in a short and concise way. For anecdotal numbers: GTK has 1 person working full-time on it (me). Glib doesn’t even have that. I think evolution is in a similar situation (a complete email client). We can also try Ohloh’s statistics for GNOME (they include 131 packages, including GStreamer and NetworkManager). You’ll see a sharp drop off of committers on the first page already which suggests around 20 full-time developers at most.

GNOME is a Red Hat project.

If you look at the Ohloh statistics again and ignore the 3 people working almost exclusively on GStreamer and the 2 working on translations, you get 10 Red Hat employees and 5 others. (The 2nd page looks like 6 Red Hat employees versus 8 others with 6 translators/documenters.) This gives the GNOME project essentially a bus factor of 1.

GNOME has no goals.

I first noticed this in 2005 when Jeff Waugh gave his 10×10 talk. Back then, the GNOME project had essentially achieved what it set out to do: a working Free desktop environment. Since then, nobody has managed to set new goals for the project. In fact, these days GNOME describes itself as a “community that makes great software”, which is as nondescript as you can get for software development.
The biggest problem with having no goals is that you can’t measure yourself. Nobody can say if GNOME 3 is better or worse than GNOME 2. There is no recognized metric anywhere. This also leads to frustration in lots of places.

GNOME is losing market- and mindshare.

I don’t want to point out Linus’ bashing, but a bunch of very pragmatic facts that all together lead to fewer GNOME users and developers:

  • Distros are dropping GNOME for other environments instead of working with GNOME.
  • Previous supporters of GNOME are scaling back their involvement or have already dropped GNOME completely.
  • Most important desktop applications have not made the switch to GNOME 3. From talking to them, it’s not a priority for most of them.
  • The claimed target users for GNOME are leaving desktop computers behind for types of devices GNOME doesn’t work on.


#1 Greg on 08.09.12 at 13:19

“Gnome3 is open source, will always be open source. I cannot say the same for Unity — Ubuntu’s GUI interface.”

FUD much?

#2 Séb on 08.09.12 at 15:21

I’ve used Gnome 2 for years. It’s a good and simple desktop environment, maybe too old-fashioned nowadays.

Gnome 3 ? Total disaster ! Although it’s somehow pretty, usability is a nightmare.

I like the KISS (Keep It Simple & Stupid) philosophy, but Gnome Shell is joke that makes no sense at all. A simple start menu is far better than this crap.

What’s the point destroying desktop experience (100% of Gnome users) ?

Now, I’m on KDE 4 and I will switch to OS X soon… Isn’t ironic ?

#3 Ziggy on 08.10.12 at 07:09

The Gnome team made their product redundant by changing too much in Gnome 3. Funny how developers don’t realize that their users like to stick to usability concepts they have for years instead of happily accepting their new “improvements”. More efforst should have been spent to sort out annoying bugs and functions such as the sodding thumbnail housekeeping which rendered Gnome 2 desktops unusable for a couple of minutes after login.
Gnome will survive as long as Red Hat uses it in RHEL, but its importance to users is gone.

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#4 yann on 08.10.12 at 12:51

Debian also leave the boat… but some will still sing
“All in all it’s just another brick ‘out of’ the wall.”

Maybe… but the reject is obvious, especially for a desktop environment that never messed with user experience before Gnome 3.

Ubuntu doesn’t seems to meet great success with the other “PlaySkool” interface already out there on PCs too.

So, is there a good news?

Yes: Microsoft is heading towards another debacle with Windows 8… same mistake here!

#5 boylott on 08.10.12 at 15:00

What the !#@k is behind those Gnome-shell, Unity ……?
What they are looking for?

Since unity/Shell first release, I returned to windows

Sade to say but Linux DE are becoming a piece of chit
Where is the main goal, I need my PC to work and work only

#6 thaodan on 08.10.12 at 16:00

@boylott: May try KDE?^^

#7 saco on 08.10.12 at 18:52

I’m not sure what “the claimed target users for GNOME are leaving desktops for smartphones and tablets” means. I don’t know anyone who has completely given up their laptop/desktop for a tablet, or anyone who has only a tablet and no laptop/desktop. As for smartphones, except for people in the 3rd world, nobody does their main computer work on a smartphone.

Who are the claimed target users of GNOME? Programmers? People who don’t want to pay money to Microsoft (although this is kind of nuts since a laptop costs the same with or without Windows)? 3rd world people?

#8 Jason Simanek on 08.10.12 at 19:59

@saco I use Linux and Gnome because I prefer it to OSX and Windows. It’s a subjective and honest preference.

#9 hdaz on 08.10.12 at 22:55

“RedHat will have the “courage” to ship GNOME3 to enterprise”

I would of thought the majority of RHEL enterprise users don’t use Gnome or a desktop at all.

#10 Claudia Huurkman on 08.11.12 at 08:19

>I’m not sure what “the claimed target users for GNOME are leaving desktops for smartphones and tablets” means.

I guess their goal was to target people that use twitter and facebook, browse the Internet, send pictures with instagram and play Angry Birds.

Gnome should change their tagline in: “We want to make great software to dick around”

#11 Amos Batto on 08.11.12 at 16:32

Inspite of all the negative comments, I actually think that GNOME 3 shell was necessary and kudos to the GNOME development team for having the vision to see it. We all know that mobile devices are the future of computing and we will all need a decent desktop environment for our tablets, netbooks, TVs, cell phones, etc.

We needed an alternative to Android which was compatible with all our existing software (LibreOffice, Gimp, FireFox, etc). Android would never give the ability to use the software that we already know and love. After Maemo and Meego crashed, there really was no viable alternative, so GNOME stepped forward and gave us a lovely interface which will work for the next generation of mobile devices. I am very grateful and applaud all the hard work.

The problem is that an interface for mobile devices is not necessarily the best interface for the PC desktop. Trying to force everyone to use an interface designed for mobile devices was a major mistake. Some people like a mobile interface on the PC, but many do not.

GNOME just needs to recognize that most traditional PC desktop users will never be happy with with the GNOME 3 shell and stop trying to convince them. If GNOME wants to be BOTH a PC desktop environment AND mobile desktop environment, then it needs to have two separate interfaces.

Now that the GNOME 3 shell is usable and starting to stabilize, I think that GNOME should focus its development energy on adding functionality to its “classic” mode. Add all the cool things that were available in GNOME 2 to GNOME 3 classic, including the right click menus. This will woo back all the disenchanted users and hopefully attract new developers.

I know that this plan to support 2 interfaces will involve lots of work, but it is the only way that GNOME can regain its position as the preeminent Linux desktop environment and attract help. Most developers only want to work on something that they use, and most developers have stopped using GNOME 3, because they don’t find the shell to be very productive as a PC desktop environment.

Let me just add that all desktop environments are facing the same problem of how to address mobile devices. Currently we see Windows 8 facing the same problems and we see an avalanche of criticism for its Metro interface. PC desktop users hate Metro in just the same way that GNOME 2 users hate GNOME 3 shell. The company which addressed the interface problem the best is Apple which gave its users two separate interfaces for PC and mobile. Now that Apple is trying to add mobile elements to OSX it is also facing criticism from its users. The lesson is that GNOME is not unique.

The only desktop environments which haven’t faced criticism are the ones which have refused to even try and address mobile devices, as KDE, XFCE and LXDE are doing. In the long run, GNOME is better positioned than any other desktop environment, because it can potentially be used on any type of device.

#12 whatever – GUADEC wrap-up on 08.11.12 at 23:25

[…] the financial crisis, companies taking other paths that do not cross with GNOME’s one, some staring at abyss, or other factors, but, for me, GUADEC started a bit nostalgic “the good old times where […]

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#13 GuiMaster on 08.12.12 at 05:13

Amos Batto said it well. Gnome has to support “Classic” as well as “Shell.” Both need equal support, and if they give the time and effort they’ll begin to recover the users that they’ve lost recently.

#14 mankou on 08.12.12 at 18:22

@ Amos Batto
I agree with everything you said, except:

“The only desktop environments which haven’t faced criticism are the ones which have refused to even try and address mobile devices, as KDE, XFCE and LXDE are doing.”

Have you heard of something called ‘plasma active’ ? How about ‘vivaldi tablet’? If not, google them. You’d be surprised.

#15 Eric Fitton on 08.12.12 at 20:17

@thaodan KDE 4 is why I switched back to windows. Gnome 3 keeps me there. I miss the desktops of four years ago. I can’t believe that my experience w/ Linux is worse in 2012 than in 2008 when I deleted my Windows partition.

#16 Peter Wallis on 08.13.12 at 01:04

I have used Ubuntu Linux since version 7.04. I am not a techo or linux afficionado and just want a system that works every time I switch the box on and for most part Linux has not disappointed me. The interface was easy to use and understand wnd it was easy to find the things I am looking for.
I liked what happened in Gnome’s development until you guys bastardized a good desktop with this abortion of a release. Its a desktop, not a mobile phone!
So now I use Linux Mint which has at least in part made the desktop halfway user friendly.
Its almost as if you guys are on the payroll of the evil empire. Why would you want to turn a perfectly good and working project into something that makes life difficult? All that does is make new users run back to Windoze, but maybe that is the whole idea.

#17 Peter Wallis on 08.13.12 at 07:15

As an addendum to my previous post:
I strikes me as ironic how when we get something wrong we NEVER look at whatour involvement might be. We blame the economy, the weather, the moronic customers, the inflexibility of users to adopt the brave new world.
The reality is, you guys stuffed up. You had a gerat idea that didn’t translate into user acceptance. The computer history is littered with applications that were fantastic and then made themselves obsolete by pursuing some “cool” improvement that nobody wanted or needed.
You guys have a great product and some very loyal followers. But goodwill will only carry you so far and then you join the dinosaurs.
My old boss in Germany used to say “It takes 200 years to build a business name and 10 bad transactions to loose the lot”
Maybe you should take the complaints of your userbase to heart and turn the ship about, before you hit the rocks.

#18 From the 200 extensions to the new 200 Gnome Apps! | woGue on 08.14.12 at 01:28

[…] every single thing but his code!) will blame Gnome3; when a Gnome Developer will have a “bad moment” to make a huge story out of it, and let them collect every single user complaining about […]

#19 Pavel on 08.17.12 at 08:50

The main problem of GNOME project is that developers don’t care about users anymore, they care about writing “great programs”. This point of view is completely wrong and devastating. Do they care about changing the classic desktop environment paradigm will force users to leave? No, they don’t. Do they care about software functionality that users really WANT to see in GNOME? No. Do they care about developers, artists and designers who can’t anymore work with GNOME because of constant API changing? No, they don’t. They care about great programs that nobody wants to use.

Distros are leaving GNOME, yes. Because distros care about users they have. Because distros collaborate between upstream projects. But GNOME is too great for that type of thoughts, eh? Ubuntu? F_ck Ubuntu and their patches. Our programs is just too great. F_ck collaboration, f_ck users, dedicated to noone, thanks to no one, art is over.

“The claimed target users for GNOME” is just nonsense. There are no target users for GNOME, there are target users for Linux desktop. But, again, GNOME is too great to be associated with Linux. We have too much ego to be just Desktop Environment, we want to be an OS.

#20 george on 08.17.12 at 17:47

Gnome 3 is a great platform. I’ve used a Macbook for the last year, and I still miss my thinkpad running Fedora 16 and Gnome 3.

What Gnome 3 needs to succeed is ask user and developer groups what they want.

The introduction of Gnome 3 was very badly managed from a marketing point of view. They basically refused all criticism.
I still miss the possibility to see an icon constantly on the screen to tell me I have Skype notifications. For me it was a huge regression, and Gnome did not listen to the many users missing those kind of things.

It’s so sad to see this, because Gnome 3 is so much better than Unity, Windows, and to some extent Mac Os X!

#21 Pavel on 08.18.12 at 16:01

>Gnome 3 is so much better than Unity

Unity is built on top of GNOME 3 :)

#22 Rory on 08.19.12 at 02:47

Just a little user fish, but I left GNOME when Ubuntu went to Unity/Gnome3.
For one simple reason: lack of control/options/customisability compared to Gnome2 – that was all removed.

#23 Elhana on 08.19.12 at 12:15

Gnome developers are simply retards which got fired from the real software houses.

It took them 10 years to add a fucking line wrap button on their notepad toolbar (and it is not done yet)! No wonder they are in such a dung pit now.

#24 SuspiciousLizard on 08.19.12 at 19:50

The biggest problem with Gnome 3 is not that it exists; I’m perfectly fine with it existing, and it does have a niche following who greatly appreciate it. Gnome 2 was essentially a finished product, so I understand why developers got bored with minor tuning and wanted to create something new and exciting. There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself.

The real problem with Gnome 3 is that its user interface is an fundamentally different project from Gnome 2, and yet the only difference in the overall project’s name was an increase in version number. gnome-shell targets an entirely different type of user from gnome-panel and demands an entirely different workflow, and it’s also nearly impossible for actual end users to customize it to suit their needs…unlike the eminently drag-and-droppable gnome-panel. Gnome 3 is a new avant-garde desktop environment, which inherently precludes it from being accepted as a natural successor to Gnome 2.

By giving an experimental desktop like Gnome 3 the same name as Gnome 2 with an updated version number, the Gnome developers forcibly pushed Gnome 2 out of the respositories with naming conflicts. They didn’t just add a new choice of desktop environment; they did everything in their power to eradicate a choice that a lot of people relied upon for their workspace!

This is a huge deal, because it sent Gnome 2 users scrambling to find a desktop environment that actually suits their needs. Sure, people can fork Gnome 2, and some have, with Mate. That project is now picking up nicely, and I think it has a lot more life in store for it than cynics thought at the outset. Cinnamon (previously MGSE and based on Gnome 3 but now a separate environment) is also being developed, so it will be interesting to see where those take us. Both are vastly superior to Gnome 3’s fallback mode, which has adopted little of Gnome 2’s functionality and none of its customizability.

It’s great that these projects now exist, but they’re STILL not in most package repositories after all this time, and they face a lot of resistance from the, “Derp, Gnome 2 is dead, and change is progress, so move on with your lives” crowd. This is a selfish, arrogant, and controlling attitude, and it undermines the inclusive pluralism that has always been a trademark of the FLOSS desktop scene.

A lot of people see Unity and Gnome 3’s application-orientation and reliance on search a great new paradigm, and I’m happy for them, but it simply doesn’t suit everyone’s workflow. I for instance am a great deal more task and data-oriented, and I work better with the desktop metaphor and the filesystem’s implicit “method of loci” than I do with a focus on applications and searching. This extends to the positioning of minimized windows and other areas as well. Unity and Gnome 3 fight me all the way by insisting their layouts are better for me. They aren’t.

To give an analogy, consider the usefulness of important/export functionality between email clients and web browsers: They work great when you’re just switching applications, but the abstraction breaks when you’re trying to back up a bare minimum of personal data for a fresh installation (without the rest of the cruft in ~/)…to do that, you actually have to know where your personal data is stored in the filesystem and separate it from the stuff you don’t want to keep. Similarly, consider the usefulness of sharing your data across platforms to keep your desktop/laptop/tablet/phone/etc. synchronized: It works, but the filesystem specifics are so abstracted away that you have no real understanding of or control over what exactly is being shared and how.

Gnome 3 and Unity give me the same feeling of being kept “sheltered” and separated from my actual data storage: The additional layer of abstraction provided by the applications/search focus mildly obfuscates the information that keeps me organized and sane. I can still access the filesystem from both of them of course, but the elimination of the desktop metaphor puts the filesystem “off to the side” instead of keeping it an integral part of computer use, which is what I want: For instance, I rely heavily on the desktop metaphor and use the desktop as a temporary working area where I can keep my files messy before organizing them and moving them to the rest of my tidy filesystem.

There are still a lot of other desktop environments like KDE, XFCE, and even LXDE that better preserve the desktop metaphor that many of us depend upon, but if Gnome 2 users really preferred them, we would have been using them already! Thanks to Gnome 3, we’re forced to choose “second best,” risk technical difficulties with third-party repositories to use something like Mate, or wait for it to finally get into the distro repositories over the objections of the naysayers…and aside from Linux Mint, it’s taking a while.

The bottom line here is that people should be able to keep using what they like if change doesn’t suit them, or if they have differing opinions about the meaning of “progress.” Would anyone seriously suggest that any and all hand saws are now obsolete in the face of circular saws, and use their influence to argue against stores carrying hand saws? Would anyone seriously suggest eliminating chess now that Electronic Talking Battleship exists? A desktop does not have to be “cutting edge” or constantly changing to remain relevant to users. For that matter, if it’s an essentially finished product like Gnome 2, it doesn’t even need to be actively developed aside from bug fixes, at least until some hypothetical point in the future where user applications are heavily GTK3 based (even then, there’s nothing keeping GTK2 and GTK3 libraries from coexisting). It will still work exactly as its users expect. Not everyone wants or needs change for its own sake, and we’d like to decide for ourselves when a new desktop looks more appealing and useful instead of being strong-armed into it by packaging politics.

#25 SuspiciousLizard on 08.19.12 at 20:17

Actually, I should add that the Mate developers are planning on progressively updating their codebase to use GTK3 anyway. (After all, a lot of Gnome 3’s technical infrastructure is vastly cleaner and superior to Gnome 2’s.) Once that move is complete for gnome-panel and similar components, I imagine they might even drop most of the forked Gnome 2 code and start sharing most of their codebase with Gnome 3. Depending on how Cinnamon turns out, it might end up becoming the better alternative too. Regardless, I think the point of Mate right now is that it’s currently the only way old Gnome 2 users can continue with our preferred interface uninterrupted…or it would be, if it were in enough repositories.

#26 Siv on 08.20.12 at 09:33

Standing in the wings looking in as a Windows user who is now faced with the new Windows 8 Metro UI, I would say when Windows 8 ships in October, the Linux community will have one of their biggest opportunities to grab serious productivity users from Microsoft.

Any sane person knows that touch on mobile devices and mouse on desktop PCs cannot realistically be combined, they are to my mind mutually exclusive. I know Microsoft are doing it to unify their interface across all platforms and save having to maintain multiple code bases into the bargain.

I think Windows 8 will do well with the casual home user who really use their PC to play games and surf the web.

Business users however will steer well clear of it sticking with Windows 7 until it has to be prised from their cold dead hands.

SO if the Linux community can provide a desktop operating system with a familiar desktop user interface that looks similar to Windows 7/XP but offers new levels of performance on older hardware (pretty much what Gnome 2.x did) but providing improvements in terms of multitasking, memory management and media playback you might be surprised how many new productivity users come on board.

I would have thought you could take Gnome 3, listen to the end users that want a mobile/tablet type touch centric O/S and turn it into “Gnome Touch Edition 1.0” and take the Gnome 2.x codebase improve the multitasking, memory management and media playback goodness and call that “Gnome Desktop Edition 3.0”.

If you built a really nice equivalent of XP Mode (I know there are things like Wine and Virtual Box already, but you need to make it as slick as XP Mode) so that Businesses could run legacy XP era applications seamlessly you would be onto a winner.

I think LibreOffice is looking like a very usable alternative to MS Office for most business users who don’t need half of what is in MS Office. So combined with a nice friendly Gnome 2.x interface there would be an alternative.

I think Windows 9 may look a lot different to Windows 8 when the backlash from business becomes clear, so you probably need to move fast to capture the user base.


#27 david on 08.20.12 at 10:54

Well, I have to say that it is about time that you noticed. I noticed all of these problems with GNOME years back.

When you folks came out with GNOME-3, I looked at it then said to myself: I don’t remember any real deep documentation explaining the justification behind why the new design was better. No metrics. No UX studies. Nothing.

Just some “oh, we think this is the way to go” hand-wavey stuff published in articles with no specifics on anything. Just cheerleaders… and then people posting their disgust.

I gave both GNOME-3 and Unity a try.

And both were failures.

After trying them myself, I am convinced even to this day that no proper study was ever done. Somebody or so group within your org who was very charismatic convinced the whole lot of your to go on a fools errand.

And this is where it landed you all.

Ubuntu users defected to Mint to keep using GNOME-2.

Then when Mint and others tried to go GNOME-3, they either got backlash or defectors, too.

My advice: use real statistics and studies on UX when making UX decisions.

This blunder was so grand, I couldn’t decide if you all did it to yourselves or if you’d been infiltrated by people hellbent on derailing your project.

I’ve seen both types in my lifetime.

And for GNOME, I can’t tell which one your afflicted with.

#28 Le projet Gnome : est-ce le début de la fin ? « SAM7BLOG on 08.21.12 at 20:28

[…] effet, il y a deux semaines j’avais lu sur le blog d’un des développeurs de gnome, un billet qui a beaucoup circulé et fait parler de lui, pour résumer Otte fait savoir que le projet Gnome manque cruellement de développeurs, […]

#29 xyroth on 08.23.12 at 12:10

I have been using Linux since we had to install it using floppy disks, and a lot of the comments here sound very familiar.

You have a long developed, mostly mature project who spot a real problem (the base libraries are incompatible with multi-touch) and decide to do something about it.

Then they make classic mistake no1, and go away and specify and implement it mostly in secret, in a way that was mostly incompatible with the old libraries.

Then they make classic mistake no2, and have the replacement libraries be both incompatible, and required to have the same name.

This is guaranteed to break lots of stuff, and could trivially have been avoided by using a prefix (ie MT-libname) and gradually migrating the old api to call the new libraries (as wine does with their direct x support).

They then make classic mistake no3, and have each significant release break a new subsystem, and then moan that programmers are not rushing to move to the new ever-changing api, without acknowledging that this means that they need to port the old api (not the old code) to use the new libraries.

Then when users complain about the breakages, they say “but you haven’t given it a chance”, and generally don’t listen when users say that they did, but it is not compatible with their work flow.

There is no such thing as the one true way, people do different things, and need different ways of doing them.

If the kernel can radically rewrite it’s internals without needing to break it’s high level api’s, why can’t a desktop.