Noticed some tiny disturbance in the force before Christmas as
Thom Holwerda of osnews posted an article about what he felt was the sorry state of free desktops. Seems most people in the GNOME camp simply ignored the article as irrelevant, but Aaron Segio of Trolltech and KDE let it somewhat get to him.
Personally I felt Thom kinda pointed out some troublesome points, but that his context and conclusion was wrong.
First of all he critized GNOME for not having a clear vision for GNOME 3. Well this is true, but that is mostly due to not having any clear ideas for something that would require a GNOME 3. GNOME 2 came about as a result of shortcomings in GTK+ at the time, causing the GTK+ maintainers having to break API compatability in order to improve for instance the handling various writing languages and fonts.
As part of having to port to the new GTK+ some policy changes where made for GNOME in terms of focus and goals. Goals and policies which people are still very happy with and don’t see a big need to change.
At the moment GNOME is doing quite well with incremental improvements with a lot of the major effort by GNOME contributors and companies going into projects such as HAL, X.org, Cairo, NetworkManager, GStreamer, Telepathy, OpenOffice, Firefox and Bluetooth support to mention a few. The thinking being that having a full featured office suite for instance is more important to potential users than having a panel that can be themed to have the shape of a sextant. At the same time the core parts of GNOME are continously moving forward with incremental improvements or replacements.
Why GNOME’s incremental approach is considered less by Thom than Apple’s is not clear to me, but for some reason he feels that unless you put a major version number behind something in the linux world you by definition stand still.
And to be honest incremental improvements is what everyone is doing these days. Windows Vista, MacOSX and KDE4 don’t really contain anything earth shattering, they are basically increamental improvements over the predecessors. Thom mentiones KDE’s Plasma, Appeal and Solid in his article as KDE4 efforts. Aasegio mentioned Phonon and Decibel as other examples. Well if you look at each of them, none of them are actually doing anything ‘new’, they are all just attempts at trying to do what is already being done, but in what each project maintainer feel is a better way. Which is just the same as how GNOME currently increments forward, although since GTK+ is not breaking API the need/motivation to call it GNOME3 is not very big. The excitement around Compiz recently showed how more glitz can be brought to the desktop as an incremental improvement.
The thing is that until we find a new way to interact with our desktops, nobody will be doing anything truly significantly new anytime soon, apart from maybe in the application space.
And to give an example of what I am talking of I want to point to the Nintendo Wii as a device which actually is doing something ‘new’. While parts of the technology has been around for quite a while the way the Wii controler works do truly change the way you interact with the system (making it much for physical for one) as compared to previous and competing consoles.
On the desktop space I think doing something I feel deserve the title ‘new’ will be harder, but I think the Lowfat experiement of Mirco has the potential. And if it pans out it might become the foundation and focus of a GNOME 3 cycle. But with all such experimental efforts we can’t commit to it before the proof of concept has reached a bit further so we know we can accomodate all the major usecases. And maybe in the end it will end up being more like what we at Fluendo try to do with Elisa, making it a add-on to the current desktop/system for a specific usecase rather than a full desktop replacement. Yet using many of the same building blocks as the desktop.
So while both GNOME and KDE could do with more developers I don’t see any truly dark clouds on the horizon. And if Thom or anyone else have any clear ideas on something that would require GNOME to change so many of its internals to justify switching the major version number to 3, then please come with them. In the meantime lets just continue incrementing our way towards perfection within the constraints of the current paradigm :)