GNOME plans for the future

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,, 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 :)

29 thoughts on “GNOME plans for the future

  1. I wouldn’t say that KDE4 is not doing anything “new”. From that POV, you could say that gnome 2.0 was not doing anything “new” compared with gnome 1.x.

    KDE 4 is still a computer desktop environment, but it’s a radical, “revolutionary” (as in: your old apps won’t work, you’ve to rewrite lots of code) change from kde 3.

  2. IMO, GNOME has shifted away from the simplicity idea lately. This first showed by the inclusion of Evolution, which was way more “bloated” UI wise than other GNOME applications, Rhythmbox, and probably others too. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that for GNOME’s success shipping these more powerful applications was absolutely important at that time, and it has certainly helped it’s adoption in enterprise environments.

    Yet, I would love to see innovative new solutions. For example, there are ideas to create a dead-simple tag based email application, instead of yet another tool that looks like all others.
    Also, Muine as a music player has a more granny compatible user interface than the iTunes clones. I would love to see a desktop that is built around such simplicity.

  3. You points about the need for a Gnome 3 are good. Gnome is nice as it is. I would however like to point something out.

    It’s mostly C. While that is nice (it’s efficient and the core developers really know how to handle it) it scares away some potential contributors. Contributing in C++ or some higher level language (Ruby for instance, it eats Python for breakfast) being *standardly* included possibility (if your application will require installing “extra” -mm libraries it will stay 2nd class citizen because many distros etc want to keep things small) would drive in more people to develop Gnome applications.

    You have to keep in mind that many people are taught nowadays higher level languages only. They can be good programmers but having to learn the ways of C is an unwanted extra burden for some. At least C++ would be an improvement. It can be efficient too, both in execution and to develop. Better yet, Ruby (or Python if you really MUST) could be a killer.

    Myself I have been thinking about revamping completely the icon selection (for files and runnable items on the gnome-panel) because it has HORRIBLE usability. (Why on earth can’t I just select one of the THEMES installed and then the icon, why do I have to know about directory paths?!!?) I’m not quite willing to write any C however. I could but it’s too time consuming and loathsome when I’m usually programming in Ruby or Java. I’ve been thinking the same about Dia. Hopping in and revising it pretty much completely. It seems horrible as well :-)

    So there MIGHT actually be “need” for Gnome 3.0. Not becauce of features but because of refactoring into a position where contributions in 1 great higher level language would be wanted also into the core

  4. @knipknap: what’s the use of simplicity? it helps ppl to get up and running faster, touché. but that’s only helping what, week of the whole 50 years one uses a computer? i’d take an advanced but a bit harder-to-learn interface over a totally dumbed down interface which doesn’t allow anyone to work efficiently with it. Ok, feature overkill lowers efficiency. but you can’t dumb down and gain efficiency forever. better THINK more about how to integrate the features. imho all those simplicity isn’t worth anything. more an excuse for ‘we don’t have time to implement the features’ or, in other words ‘sorry, we’re behind the competition. but look how usable it is!’.

  5. Easy, Gnome 3 should have an entire revamped build system thing. It should be as easy to build and install as KDE. I would think something like this would require huge changes, and so calling it Gnome 3 would be good. Couple that with out of the box support for all that funky opengl window manager shit and I’d say a major release like that would be warrented.

  6. superstoned: Simple applications do not need to have less features. In fact, I found that by adding additional “smart” features you can often get rid of UI bloat.

    For example, in OpenOffice they could add a “File -> Save a copy…” menu item and get rid of the “Save as…”, “Export…” and “Export as PDF…” menu items all at once, since they all do the same thing for a subset of document types. After the change you could in fact perform the same action on more document types than before.

    Same thing goes for tag based email.

  7. Who is this “thom”? Who cares about what that guy thinks? Why am I wasting my time even reading something related to that guy’s opinion??

  8. Who is this “Mark Acacio”? Who cares about what that guy thinks? Why am I wasting my time even reading something related to that guy’s opinion??

  9. Who is this “alex”? Who cares about what that guy thinks? Why am I wasting my time even reading something related to that guy’s opinion??

  10. I guess its pretty obvious alex = thom… You wanted to know about this troll, there you go. I’ve heard the poor guy isn’t popular even among osnews users… and he doesn’t seem to be making friends here as well! Regarding his comments? Who cares what that looser thinks…

  11. The biggest problem of linux desktop is ugly font rendering.
    Look at the Vista (with ClearType), comparing to Linux my eyes feel big difference.

  12. >> The biggest problem of linux desktop is ugly font rendering.
    Look at the Vista (with ClearType), comparing to Linux my eyes feel big difference.<<

    I haven’t seen Vista yet, but it was about time MS did something about their ugly font rendering. Mac and Linux users are laughing their asses off whenever MS Windows font rendering is discussed — and rightly so.

  13. @knipknap: well, i agree with that. as long as simplicity means trying to find innovative ways to make applications easier to use while retaining their power, i’m all for it. luckily this is the road KDE seems to take, and if Gnome is shifting as well, as you said, that’s a good thing. the whole ‘let’s create an easy interface’ was a bit overdone in there, imho.

    anyway, about the topic at hand, a major release can mean anything. from a simple update (‘let’s add a major version number, good for sales’) to a shift in vision (eg let’s rewrite the desktop experience) or architectural changes. imho the first is rather useless, esp for Free Software, but the other two are valid, esp combined like in the case of KDE 4. i’m sure GTK would (maybe if they had some more hands writing code) profit from a binary compatibility break, allowing for some refactoring. same for many gnome libs, some consolidation could be great. and bringing languages like mono, java etc more into the core – or at least make em easier to use and officially supported. Or big additions like an easy to use Gstreamer wrapper, platform-independence features like Solid etc. each of these could be done without any big changes and breaking compatibility. but i could imagine developers would love to take a year ‘off’ and work on the framework – free to do what they want, pull in some big changes, cleanups…

    i know the KDE dev’s are enjoying it to a great extend, and the KDE community became very lively this way.

  14. for observations i notice that kde is putting much more effort in the frameworks that it delivers/builds-upon.

    where there are many libs used for gnome, all having their incremental releases — kde builds on two main pillars: qt-lib and kde-lib, where the kde-lib is often delivering extensions to the qt-lib (in an object oriented way).

    the arrival of qt4 (the next big release, that breaks a lot of code) is also taken by the kde devs to make some other changes to the kde-lib: new build system, clean-up of the libs, putting more functionality in the libs (enabling all application to use it)… this because at this point the kde devs are allowed to make changes to the libs that break code badly.

    i think kde got it right; this is what release levels (major, minor, tiny, etc) are all about.

    “incremental releases” that the author talks about are a bad scheme in my point of view. they will allow cowboy-coding to a large extend.

  15. I think in short, KDE “versions” are not quite versions of GNOME. Both methods has their cons and pros. KDE “versions” is more like whole system restructuring, GNOME is more gradual, I would say, lately very effective incremental changes, which doesn’t break experience of GUI much.

    KDE “versions” is also driven by QT development and it’s new version. QT is very active, as it is have serious commercial backing by Trolltech.

    In short, I don’t see nothing new about KDE 4, but it is also nothing bad – lot of improvements, cleaner, faster code. But I also don’t see nothing very bad about how GNOME changes things – sure it would be nice to have more development pace, but it is ok somehow how it is now. At least it works for me and lot of others GNOME users out there.

  16. First of all, there’s nothing more tedious on any message board or blog than badmouthing the reputation of a writer or commenter. The ideas Thom Holwerda presented are either valid or they are not. Ad hominem attacks say a lot more about the person making them than the person who is targeted. I like, and I sometimes agree and sometimes disagree with Thom and the other editors over there, but I think it’s a fine site, and I like to consider all educated opinions as valid even if I disagree.

    There is simply no way of running a site like where people aren’t going to hate you because computer geeks are partisan; loyal to their OS, their WM, whatever. I’ve met a few people who are “platform agnostic,” but they tend to be long-time IT professionals who aren’t hobbyists. I have yet to meet anyone who is a hobbyist (regardless of what they do for a paycheck) who is not partisan in some way (though some claim that). Linux users are going to get on the nerves of FreeBSD and Windows users. Windows users are going to get on everyone’s nerves at some point. It’s just how it is.

    There’s nothing special about Holwerda in this regard, at least based on what I’ve read on In fact, the one thing I’ve noticed about Thom Holwerda (and Eugenia Loli-Queru, an even more controversial writer) is they can tend to be grumpy about things. I don’t think either of them have any sacred cows, whatever their desktop preferences, which is more than I can say about a lot of users.

    And that’s good, because that’s their job. But you have to take what they do into consideration when reading what they write. I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth or thoughts in anyone’s head but frankly I think both of them would just like to see things get better, and get better faster, and wouldn’t we all…

    I think we have reached an end to revolutionary changes on the desktop, until the desktop paradigm itself is completely replaced and discarded.

    Every so often someone writes about how old (and tired, they say) the desktop metaphor is but no one has presented much of an alternative. Frankly I think it works pretty well.

    I see two major things on the horizon – one is more sophisticated virtualization, which is already here to a large degree, but this is only of use to a certain population of users, and isn’t particularly related to the desktop anyway.

    The other is metadata-rich filesystems, which has been delayed by Microsoft (WinFS), and which OS X has, though I’ve never used it (Spotlight) so I can’t say anything about it. And again,

    Linux has xattr and Beagle. I think we’ll see more and more use of this in the future. I think it will be used in more and more interesting ways.

    But still, even this is only relevant to the desktop in the sense of the GUI interface into all of this.

    Other than that, I can’t see any major sea changes on the horizon. Can anyone else? I’m sure things will get prettier, but I don’t see much changing drastically.

    My objection to Thom’s POV is I’m not sure what kind of revolutionary new features he wants to see. Most of the things that annoy me on my desktop are quirks, bugs, or things I’d like to see tweaked. I don’t get the sense that my desktop is missing something major (I run KDE now but ran Gnome for 4 years).

    If you sat me down and asked me what I wanted, I’d suggest tweaks to file selection dialogs and things like that. Maybe I’m just not enough of a visionary, but I can’t think of any major changes I’d like to see.

    I cannot be alone in this sentiment. Does anyone have major things they’d like to see implemented on their desktop? If so, what? What is it that Gnome and KDE are not doing that they should be? I’m curious what ideas people have.

  17. “Thom Holwerda of osnews posted an article about what he felt was the sorry state of free desktops”

    I have not read his article, but that sentence alone holds ‘some’ truth. Especially for GNOME. IMHO. I find that XFCE is like GNOME, but lighter and a bit more featureful/customizable without sacrificing simplicity. Nevertheless, I always find myself switching between GNOME, XFCE, KDE, every few months because I am never fully satisfied with any one.

    Anyway, you asked for ideas to really ‘revolutionize’ the desktop environment. Here’s an idea. I find that one of the most distinguishable ‘visual’ differences between GNOME, KDE, XFCE, OSX, Wincrap, are the ‘panels’ but the way they function is pretty much the same, think about the taskbar/window-lists , system trays and program launchers, they all work pretty much the same in different DEs, except OSX.

    What I propose is something which handles systrays,taskbars and launchers a bit differently. See demo below:

    I talked to some XFCE maintainers about this, and they liked it, except they think the merging of the systray and launcher is a bit much.

    I think KDE4 is going to be something different, hopefully, quite exciting. XFCE is light and fast and has potential to do more. I am concerned for GNOME though.

    Just sharing my thoughts.
    Thank you,

  18. Make this what Gnome 3.0 should be centered around: “Default composite window manager with 3D acceleration.”

  19. So,as a GNOME Hardcore User,waiting for GNOME 3 Project to be annouced ;))

  20. > I guess its pretty obvious alex = thom… You wanted to > know about this troll, there you go. I’ve heard the poor
    > guy isn’t popular even among osnews users… and he doesn’t > seem to be making friends here as well! Regarding his > comments? Who cares what that looser thinks…

    Agree! He’s a looser @ osnews, don’t know why they accept his “contributions”. Obviously blogging about his opinions is a shame too.

  21. I love gnome, i think it rocks, i think it has a future, it is headed in the right direction, (could go a little faster, incrementally:P). And os9 to osx was not incramental:P.:)

  22. Please, don’t take seriously whatever this Thom said. I’ll be vulgar, but i must say it : he’s a fucking monkey. He didn’t even knew what a Micro Kernel is really. He had no idea of the underlying architecture and he had the balls to argue with ignorance but he got owned by the many people who proved him wrong.

    Why intelligent people takes him seriously to the point of posting replies on their blog is beyond me. Ignore him, please, he’s not worthy of any attention.

    Thom is NOT like Eugenia. We all know Eugenia is very opiniated but she actually has a CLUE about what she’s talking. Osnews is much more interesting when it’s her who does the posts. For the love of OsNews, just don’t do any reply to the bullshit of Thom. Let this rotting scum die.

  23. I think Gnome should start leading the way in changing the way we actually handle our data. Currently evolution stores our email in its own folders, the part of that folder structure also exists in my home folder because I have documents which follow the same topics. Everything is separated.
    I think Gnome should start thinking of creating a semantical filesystem where data / documents can be given meaning so that openoffice documents, emails regarding the comments on that very same document, a quotation for creating the document can be related to each other very easely.
    And no, I do not mean Beagle, I mean true semantics.

  24. All the configurability of Gnome-1 was lost in v2. I was a hard core gnome user, but everything I liked about it died away with Gnome-2. I switched to KDE and have been using it ever since. I try gnome now and then and it still seems like it’s catering to the lowest skilled computer user. I’d pick windows xp over gnome-2 even with the state that 2.x has reached over the years. Maybe gnome-3 will be an improvement, but for power users, gnome-2 just can’t cut it.

  25. @Erich
    My system libraries folder contains “wrappers” for GTK/Glib to about a half dozen languages. All because maybe one application required them. Each of these weights in at a meg or more, usually.

    Better, some developers would prefer wxGTK+, or maybe some other more exotic/esoteric library. Or, they want KDE. While that’s fine at first glance, I’ve seen systems with hundreds of megs of wrappers and libraries that all basically do the same thing.

    What’s the solution? Unfortunately you aren’t the only one would takes swipes like “Ruby eats Python” – we all do. That’s why Gnome vs. KDE is a hot topic too. But the cost of our arrogance is becoming hard to ignore.

  26. Gnome File Dialog

    I’m traditionally a kde user but Ive been giving ubuntu gnome a try for the last couple of months. Gnome is generally ok, but please please please replace that unuseable file dialog!!!!

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