March 19, 2013

GNOME 3.8 – Jon McCann talks of future in GNOME

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The GNOME Project is proud to announce the imminent release of GNOME 3.8 in less than two weeks. As with every release, there are many new features and technical improvements. We asked William Jon McCann, a GNOME designer, about the direction of the project and what he is anticipating for GNOME in the future.

Question: GNOME 3.8 is going to be released. As always, your work has been very impressive in this release cycle. What are the features you’re most proud of?

Answer: For me, one of the things that I’m quite happy about is to see a lot of focus on improving the experience for application developers – in addition to the usual effort to improve the experience for our users. We’ve been doing a number of things to move this forward, but one of the most helpful has been to become application developers ourselves in order to really understand what is needed.

We started with a number of designs for some core applications that solve very common problems and then we set out to find the best and easiest way to get them done. GNOME Documents is a good example.

We started the project a few releases ago in order to prototype some new design patterns. We learned a lot in that process. We found that many of the tools we needed – just were not there.
So we set out to create new tools, new widgets, new patterns, and I think in 3.8 we’re finally starting to see this take shape. Documents at this point is a very capable document reader, as good as anything else out there.

But perhaps as interesting as that is that in the process we have had to create a new library of tools (libgd) that has proven to be incredibly useful for creating new applications, and has essentially become the staging ground for the next generation of the application development toolkit for GNOME – GTK.

I think we’re going to see a lot of exciting changes happening in the next few months in this space. And I’m incredibly excited about it.

Question: GNOME 3 has introduced a fresh user experience, but nevertheless, has been severely criticized. Do you believe that GNOME Classic could be a replacement for GNOME 2-nostalgics? Or how do you consider GNOME Classic?

Answer: Nostalgia is a very interesting thing. I think most of the time if you look at it carefully you see that it is most often a longing for a past that never existed, a romantic notion of what was.

And there is certainly some of that here. We know this because we wrote GNOME 2 – the same people that wrote GNOME 3; that said, for some people GNOME 2 suits them better, I don’t doubt that and, honestly, I think they should be free to continue to use GNOME 2 forever, but it is incredibly hard to do so.

One reason for this is the nature of the distribution model we use to deliver our work: it is a train that doesn’t stop and that never really stops at any of the stations; and sometimes people either don’t want to continue on – or don’t really like how fast it is going., and that is fine.

We should allow them to get off at any of the stops. We should have the stops in the first place and those stops should not disappear after a certain amount of time and force them back on the train.
In order to make this happen we need to consider our work more like a whole product.

We need to move away from the idea that all the cars are moving in different directions: they all arrive at the station at the same time.

For this, we need to consider the entire experience – we need to create an operating system, a cohesive and coherent, integrated user experience and developer experience that will allow us to continue to move ahead without losing steam and still allow regular stops to occur.

We can’t afford to stop and just look back. Things don’t stand still.

Question During the last months, Windows 8/RT became an interesting competitor of Android and iOS in mobile environment. Which of them is more inspiring for you, in developing a new design language for GNOME?

Answer There is just a wild amount of innovation occurring at the moment, I don’t recall anything like it. To me this is fascinating and fun, I tend to act a bit like a user experience entomologist, observing, testing, and cataloging the ecosystem. There has never really been such a dynamic and rich environment. And the truth is no one really knows what the future looks like but what is great is that this doesn’t stop people from trying to create it.

You learn from what doesn’t work as much if not more than from what does: that’s how progress works.

To me, that is the inspiring thing, that all of them exist – are all very interesting – and that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

Question: Recently Ubuntu has released a new mobile version. When can we expect to see a GNOME phone or a GNOME tablet?

Answer When a partner steps up to work with the project to make it happen, which is one of the really great things about the position GNOME plays in the open source movement. We aim to create an operating system that is better than anything that exists. Better for users. Better for developers.

But what some people don’t realize is that because we are a non-profit that isn’t controlled by a single corporation, there are opportunities for partners that don’t exist anywhere else.

We are the level playing field and this is something that we’ve seen partners really value: we are an open project in every sense of the word. So, I can’t give you any specifics but I think this is something that would be really neat to see if it was done properly.

Question: How do you like to draw the future of GNOME, based on distro/packages system or on free apps? Or what else?

Answer: The future of GNOME is pretty clear. The world’s premier and, in fact, only truly free software operating system. We’ve reached the end of the utility of the package based mentality that has been effective at getting us to where we are now. It was a useful implementation detail but we got a little kooky about it: we turned it into our identity.

It turns out that it is now holding us back, we can’t afford to be sentimental about bits.

They served their purpose and now we need something different, we’re in the process of determining what that will look like but we know it will be a dramatically better experience for our users and for application developers and for our partners.

It will make it much much easier for our downstream partners to integrate, test, and deliver their products and to make our partnership much stronger in the process: more focused collaboration, much less conflict.

For details, I’d like to refer our readers to the discussions on the GNOME OS list.

Question: In some recent interviews, Linus Torvalds expressed his appreciation of GNOME Shell Extensions. What is your position on extensions?

Answer: Extensions are a great technology. And they have proven to be very useful for tweaking some of aspects of the operating system shell: it is great to see new and old contributors using them to experiment.

We’ve responded to this interest by making some of them obsolete. We’ve incorporated some of the most popular extensions into the core in the last few GNOME releases.

Question: During the latest GNOME Developer Experience Hackfest you told us that “Some really cool stuff is coming”. Would you give us some spoilers?

Answer: I’ve already mentioned a couple of the awesome things we’re working on. In essence: applications. Applications are coming. These are very exciting times.

Awesome! It seems the best is yet to come! Thank you very much Jon for spending time with us and for your amazing efforts to deliver the best user experience for everyone!