Longtime GNOME developer and community member Luis Villa kicked off the GNOME users' and
developers' European conference (GUADEC) with a challenge to the
project to "embrace the web" as a way for the project to
remain relevant. The web has won the battle to produce a "robust,
libre platform" over various desktop efforts like GNOME, but there
is still time for the project to find a seat at that table. It is a
"big scary step" to take, Villa said, but one that he thinks
is ultimately the right direction for the project.
While he is currently working for Mozilla, which might have colored his
thinking some, Villa certainly disclaimed (in true lawyerly fashion) that
he was representing anyone's views but his own. He was taking vacation
time to attend the conference and wore a shirt from a company (Ximian) that
"no one can be pissed at any more". He was there because
"I love GNOME", he said.
Villa was speaking from "the other side", referring back to a
talk he gave at GUADEC in 2006 when he was "vanishing into the bowels
of law school" and told the project members that he would see them
on the other side. That historical perspective was a major element of
Villa's talk; one theme revolved around a picture of a party on a Paris
boat at the first GUADEC in 2000. He considered what one would tell the
folks in that picture about the progress that has been made in the ten
Today there is a free and open platform that runs on all PCs and laptops,
but which also runs on phones and televisions, a fact which would likely
the crowd from 2000. Most people using that platform also use Linux every
the licensing of the platform is generally LGPL or more permissive. Even
Microsoft has an implementation. There are some 400 million users. High
school kids are learning to program for this platform partially by using a
"View Source" button. Unfortunately Villa would have to tell those folks
that this platform isn't GNOME, it is, instead, the web.
So the question is: what should GNOME do about that? Villa described
"one possible answer", which is for GNOME to join forces with
the web development community and bring its strengths, in terms of
technical ability, culture, user focus, and hacker mentality, to that
party. GNOME should figure out how to deliver the best combination of
desktop and web applications to users.
Basically, the web won because it "co-opted our message", he
said. He pointed to the famous Gandhi quote
("First they ignore you ...") but noted that things don't always work out
that way. "Sometimes your ideas win without you", he said.
But, the web didn't win because it is perfect for either developers or
users. There are problems with proprietary applications as well as control
and privacy issues. It delivers sophisticated, powerful applications,
though, which are run by someone else, freeing users from that burden.
It's not a fad, and not going away, as it will only get better, he said.
He also said that he had pointed the audience to an EtherPad site as a way
to send questions, rather than to a Gobby instance, because he could be
sure that all the attendees had web browsers while many would not have Gobby
He noted that Apple and others brag about a thousand new "apps" this week,
but said that there are a thousand new web applications every hour.
Developers have already embraced the web in a big way; GNOME needs to
get on board. It is extremely easy to develop a web application by putting
thinking about making development that easy for the GNOME platform.
His suggestion was to start with "baby steps" by
reimplementing the web's ideas for the desktop.
The web should be treated as a first-class object and various desktop
applications should integrate with web services, he said. He pointed to
background image chooser which now allows picking images from Flickr or
other web photo sites as an example. Though he noted that Zeitgeist hadn't
made the cut for GNOME 3.0, he saw that as a step in the right direction
because it treats the web as just another object.
Beyond that, the project should be thinking about even bolder strategies
that would not just copy what the web is doing. It will be bigger and
harder step, but he suggested that GNOME start writing code for the
browsers to provide any needed functionality. "Bring our ideas,
bring our code" to fix areas that don't work for GNOME. As a
concrete proposal, he thought the Desktop Summit being planned for next
year (combining GUADEC and KDE's Akademy conference) should be renamed to
the "Free User Software Summit" and include browser developers from Mozilla
Further out, GNOME should "burn the boats" by writing all of
work should there be a fall back to GTK. According to Villa, GNOME needs
to start thinking that way because "that's how our users and
developers are thinking". Instead of pointing developers at C and GTK or
should also be made easier to run the same code on the desktop or the web, he
He allowed as to how this would be a major upheaval;
"I told you this would be hard."
While it is going to require lots of new code, and potentially
abandoning lots of old code, it is still an embodiment of "our old
Bringing that culture of freedom and user-focus to the web is Villa's
For his part, Villa "welcomes skepticism". Maybe folks think
counter-narrative: "Maybe my answer isn't right, but what is?"
Maybe there are those that think the web is a fad, but they need an
argument to back that up.
He is optimistic about the future because of the people that make up
GNOME. "We are the right people" to do this job, but need the
The clear indication from the talk is that he's convinced that the GNOME
direction isn't right and that a radical shift in focus is needed.
"Whether you agree or disagree or think
I'm crazy", the challenge is to identify the right direction and
"go out and do it". Villa has presented his idea of what that
direction should be, and he clearly thinks others should do the same.
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