Sunday, February 12, 2006

GNOME 2.16: Polish, Polish, Polish

The feedback on my blog after my last post seems to make it clear that there is some support for the theme/direction/goal of the next release of GNOME to be something along the lines of:

  • Reduce memory usage
  • increase speed
  • pay attention to (i.e. fix) the most reported user-visible bugs
  • resolve crasher bugs

In other words, we pretty much have the feature-set we need, now we need to concentrate on making the Desktop Environment not get in the way of users as they go about their work or play. Of course, the boundary between DE and application suite is somewhat hazy in many people's minds (not least my own!).

What is the feeling in the developer community toward this goal? The comments I am getting seem to be from people who characteris themselves as users, although I am sure that some of them are developers also. I would really like to here from people about this.

P.S. Some people have been asking for a more permanent list of the points that I have been raising in these posts. That will be Coming Soon. ;-)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Where to from here?

I am continually amazed at the number of positive comments I get on my blog articles: it seems that I am not alone in some of my thoughts! That is always reassuring :-)

The things that I have been blogging about, the comments that I have been receiving, and the recent controversy on the desktop development list (sparked by discussion of the recent showcasing of Novell Linux Desktop) have all started me thinking about this:

Has GNOME lost its way?

By "GNOME" I mean the GNOME "community" as well as the bunch of zeroes and ones that are currently chugging through my computer's CPU. I do not mean to imply that things are bad, it just seems to me that we seem to be somewhat aimless and fragmented. I am not suggesting that we need a benevolent dictator like Linus Torvalds or Larry Wall, or that we need more structure or formalism. (It may be that we do, but I remain to be convinced on that score.)

What I am am suggesting is that we need to articulate our shared values and goals a bit more explicitly. (I think the place for this is the eagerly anticipated but oft-delayed new site.) In particular, we need a longer term plan that just the next six months (the next realease) and more concrete than the mythical Three Point Zero.

Can we start to think about 2.16, 2.18, 2.20 and 2.22 and publish these plans on Can we nail down a few things we want to achieve in the next two years and track our progress toward them? I think that this would help unify us and give us a common goal much more than anything I see in public channels right now.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Thoughts about GNOME 2.16

Now that GNOME 2.14 is almost out I would like to propose an overarching goal for GNOME 2.16. Codenames that reflect this goal are:

GNOME 2.16: No New Features.


GNOME 2.16: Polish, polish, polish.

Yes, you heard me. I would like to see six months of GNOME development love going in to fixing bugs and improving the GNOME infrastructure in terms of documentation and web sites. I know that would be boring for many of you, but please: think of the children! Ooops, I mean users.

By "Bug Fixing" I mean not only clearing things out of bugzilla, but also attending to the things that are often talked about as being in need of improvement. I am willing to help where I can. Please bear in mind that I am not a developer, but apart from that, feel free to approach me with tasks. I don't want to be just a complainer ;-)

I was impressed by a comment made at in Dunedin recently. Someone mentioned the how the policy in New York City of "Zero Tolerance" to crime worked so well. Apparently the story is that if even the smallest of crimes (like littering and jaywalking) are not tolerated, there is a corresponding fall in the crime rate for the more major crimes. The reasoning behind this is (IIRC) explained in the book "The Tipping Point".) Please, if I'm getting these details wrong, let me know.)

I am reminded of the situation with TeX, and also LaTeX: there are practically no bugs in these packages. We can argue about why this is, or whether it is possible for GNOME to emulate the acheivements of Donald Knuth, but the point remains that bug-free software is possible, and that feeping creaturism must be resisted.

I, and almost all of my normal user buddies, HATE new features almost as much as we hate bugs. (OK, that's an exaggeration.) But honestly, whenever we hear that our versions of Windows, Office or whatever is going to be upgraded, we groan. Because amongst all the new features there is almost never anything actually useful, and all we get are new bugs. Often we have to learn new ways of doing things that don't seem any better than the existing ways. And most of the old bugs don't go away either. The "upgrade" cycle seems to be driven by the IT department needing new central management functionality rather than the actual users demanding new features.

Adding new features to software is largely driven by commercial imperatives, where common business wisdom goes along the lines of "constant innovation is not just the key for success, but a necessity for survival". We in the GNOME community do not have these imperatives.

Adding features is necessary (as opposed to fun) only when we have a desire to produce a system that is a replacement for other systems. (Getting people to start using GNOME in place of something else.) In that case it is necessary to match a large subset, but by no means all, of the system that you are trying to replace. If we are talking GNOME and GNU/Linux versus Windows XP and Mac OS X, there are a few major areas to achieve parity:

1. Multimedia handling
2. Printing
3. Laptop support

Wouldn't it be great if you could buy a new laptop, pop a CD of the latest version of you favourite distro in the drive and install the sucker with no more hassle than if you were trying to install one of the other systems? (Note I am not saying "with no hassle"!)

And then, imagine you could use your laptop without feeling like a second class citizen in the computing world, because your system can't read/play certain files or plug in to the local corporate infrastructure. Wouldn't that be great?

How much of this simply can't be done because hardware and software manufacturers will not let GNU/Linux and GNOME hackers have access to the relevant information? How much of it could be acheived by simply setting it as a goal? I do not pretend to have these answers.

Having re-read this article before posting I realise that I have been ranting. (Actually, I knew that as I was writing it.) I am hesitant to publish this rant, but I will; if only to find out if anyone shares my pain ;-)

Oh, and before I forget:


Thanks to all you GNOME hackers for making a really good GUI for GNU/Linux (and others). A really good desktop environment that has the potential to be great. If it was crap I would just switch to KDE :-)



Monday, February 06, 2006

The Last thing about GNOME that Sucks

I will keep this short: Applications that don't handle intermittent network connectivity well. (That would be pretty much all of them, in my experience.) The software that bites me with this problem almost every day are Evolution (specifically evolution-exchange-storage) and Gaim. I'm sure there are others though.

Right, that's it! There are no more things about GNOME that Suck (in my not-so-humble opinion). Remember, this was about GNOME as a desktop environment, from a user's point of view. Your opinions may (and almost certainly do) differ from mine, so if you feel strongly about these issues, blog about them!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Things about GNOME that Rock, Number Four

When I started this series, I said that I would blog about things that suck and rock on alternate days. I got out of sequence, posting two sucks in a row, so now I am posting the second rock in a row, because I am the kind of guy who likes things balanced.

So, Rock Number Four: Search functionality. Specifically deskbar-applet, Beagle and Dashboard. These (and other related) tools are seriously cool, and help me in my daily work immensely. I know that Beagle isn't specifically a GNOME application but it is the focus on findability (of objects) that I want to point out as an area of GNOME that is Way Cool.

Now, the bad news. I have decided I can't keep up with the Rocks. (It's so much easier to criticize.) But on the other hand, I seriously can't think of many more things about GNOME that "suck" either. I think I will do one more "suck" and then rename the series (in view of the upcoming GUADEC track) "Thoughts about ToPaZ", in other words, "Things about GNOME that could be improved, but don't actually suck."

Stay tuned. Or not. :-)

Things about GNOME that Rock, Number Three

I have previously written about the GNOME community and how it is so good. However since starting this "Things about GNOME" series I have been astounded at the number and quality of positive comments on the series.

I can only reiterate then, that the GNOME community ROCKS! To be specific, the ability of the community to absorb criticism in good faith is truly inspiring from the perspective of a GNOME user (as opposed to a developer).

But now I have a problem. As a user of Windows XP, Fedora Core 4 and Ubuntu Dapper Drake, I am trying to think of things that I really like about GNOME that Windows XP does not have. To be honest, nothing really leaps out at me. Don't get me wrong, I can't see myself ever stopping using GNOME, but I at this stage I can't see many obvious advantages of GNOME over Windows. This is GNOME as a desktop environment. I can't comment on GNOME as a developer platform, as I am not a developer.

This leaves aside the issue of individual GNOME applications. There are a few GNOME applications that I like better than the corresponding Windows options. I think that I will start blogging about those in the future.

As always, if you find these posts pointless, tiresome or offensive, please let me know.