There has been some discussion recently about the future of GNOME. I have seen this blogged on Planet GNOME, on the LugRadio Forums, discussed in corridors and elsewhere. Although I am an ardent supporter and fanboy around GNOME, and I love the desktop for its simplicity and elegance…GNOME has become the software equivalent of my dad’s comfortable trousers – predictable and reliable, but has ceased to be exciting and innovative in new, innovative, visual, inspirational ways. I accept this metaphor only partially applies to the aforementioned father’s trousers. This is not to say that GNOME is not innovating – GNOME is filled to the brim with tiny little niceties, but it seems that the time for tiny little niceties needs to give way to a new, exciting vision that takes into account the changes since GNOME 2.0 in the online and offline world, in interaction, social networking and the typical things people do with computers.
I am a big fan of looking at problems, taking the current solution, tearing it up and re-assessing everything from the ground up, at an interaction level. On a smaller scale, this is what we did with Jokosher, and it was an invigorating, exciting experience. We tore up the perceived conceptions of multi-track recording, and asked questions at every step of the way. Why do we need to call them Tracks? Tracks make no sense, lets call them Instruments. Why do we need waveforms that look like that? Let’s make them simpler. Why do we need to display 100 buttons? Lets just display the relevant buttons when a selection is made.
It seems there is no shortage of people wanting to see a new vision, but what the project seems to lack right now is actually making it happen. In my mind this problem is split into two key areas – (1) leadership and (2) the number of hands on deck.
Something I talked about in my keynote at GUADEC 2007 was that GNOME is a community that has really benefited from the cult of celebrity. We have some incredible rock-stars involved in the project; people like Miguel, Federico, Nat, Havoc, Luis, Jeff, Lennart, David, Behdad, Christian, Bastien etc. But the problem with celebrity is that the project is looking to the GNOME 2.0-era leaders and celebrities for guidance and approval for any specific vision. We could have the most insanely clever vision put on the table, but a vision of a new GNOME would be large and complex enough to need upfront consensus, and if it does not get the thumbs up from some of these key people, it probably won’t swim. This is just the nature of how things are – this is not the fault of anyone specific, it is just pretty much how our community seems to work.
The problem is time. With many active GNOME contributors working for distributors, development firms or consultancies, everyone has a day job, everyone has an overflowing inbox and TODO list, and not many people have an action on their TODO list saying “hack on a super-exciting-new-next-generation-GNOME”. In addition to this, many of the GNOME 2.0-era leaders are simply not as involved in the desktop anymore.
What we need is new leadership, and consensus behind a vision, and in my mind the way to make that happen is to get some key enthusiasts in the project to take a weeks holiday together, get them into a room and work on fleshing out a core draft of a vision. Ideally, this should be GUADEC, but GUADEC is too big and complex and busy for this to happen. I am convinced that if we got some of our most talented minds together to flesh out a vision, mock it up and communicate it to the world, we would have some incredible opportunities available. Just look at the great work being proposed for GTK3. Look at clutter. Many of us cant reasonably get together to discuss this as part of our day jobs, so let us get the key people to take a week off, get in the same room, and make it happen. Heck, I will hold it in my house if needed.
One week. A small team of GNOME’s finest. The result could be a new vision for GNOME, with the consensus of our community leaders. Seems worth a shot to me.