Open Source

GNOME-Development, deployment, desktop

On Jan. 4, 2000, Miguel di Icaza, the creator of the GNOME desktop environment, answered your GNOME questions and discussed GNOME development. This transcript is full of inside information and links to resources.

On Jan. 4, 2000, Miguel di Icaza, the creator of the GNOME desktop environment, answered your GNOME questions and discussed GNOME development. If you couldn’t join us then, we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting .

On Jan. 4, 2000, Miguel di Icaza, the creator of the GNOME desktop environment, answered your GNOME questions and discussed GNOME development. If you couldn’t join us then, check this issue’s Bookmarks page for future meeting dates and topics. We hope to see you soon on our weekly live chat.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity

Moderator: Welcome to tonight's guild meeting. Tonight is sponsored by buypogo.com , which has kindly donated this month's Grand Prize. Also, I’d like to thank Loki Games , VMware , and LinuxWorld Expo . LinuxWorld is giving away FREE passes to the first ever East Coast Expo. So, without further prelude, here's Jack.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: hello, everyone! this is Jack Wallen from TechRepublic welcoming you to the first Guild Meeting of 2000 and the first Guild Meeting of Linux month.

Q: What are the different philosophies behind KDE and GNOME?

Jack Wallen, Jr.: tonight, we have a special guest speaker. Miguel di Icaza is the lead programmer of the GNOME desktop environment.

Miguel di Icaza: Hello.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: did you catch the first question, Miguel?

Miguel di Icaza: No.

GNOME vs. KDE
Jack Wallen, Jr.: what are the different philosophies between GNOME and KDE?

Miguel di Icaza: There are various differences; GNOME was originally intended to bring new technologies to UNIX, one of them being the desktop. It was also supposed to be legally correct and fully free—which KDE could live without. The fundamental difference at the beginning of the projects was very simple. People who do not care about licensing problems or making the code fully free are those who want Linux just because it is different from Windows. Some of us, on the other hand, are using Linux and GNU because of the freedom they grant us. This concept was at the core of launching the GNOME project back then.Ever since then, we have been bothfully free and on good legal ground. During this process we have realized our desire to bring the missing technologies to UNIX: a component system, a printing architecture, and a better imaging model.

What is the concept of "free" software?
Jack Wallen, Jr.: i think a lot of people have a bad conception of “free” software. why do you think this misunderstanding has occurred?

Miguel di Icaza: Well, it’s probably due to the fact that "free" in English stands for two different concepts. In Latin languages we have two different words: one denotes price (gratuidad) and another denotes freedom (libertad—as in the French "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"). so, the "free" in "free software" usually refers to freedom, but many people think it is just "gratis software."

Jack Wallen, Jr.: how can that association be changed?

Miguel di Icaza: Probably by placing greater emphasis on the freedom. The "open source" people came up with this term because "free" had two meanings. But I believe it’s inherently wrong because "open source" tries to market free software and tries to cover the freedom aspect, too.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: you recently were the recipient of a rather honorable award. would you like to tell everyone?

Miguel di Icaza:Well, this award actually belongs to the GNOME community, which has made GNOME happen. There are many people that made the GNOME project happen. But the award was meant for the GNOME team as a whole.
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Q: freedom is good, I agree. Legal is good, too. What is the current status? What is the current stable version?

Miguel di Icaza: The current stable version of GNOME is called "October GNOME," and it is an alias for the 1.0.50 series of packages.

GNOME's future, in a gnutshell
Jack Wallen, Jr.: what is in the future for GNOME?

Miguel di Icaza: The future is rather interesting. With two startup companies devoted to GNOME software, the future looks very promising. Both companies are working hand-in-hand with the GNOME community, and both companies are fully committed to free software (as in freedom) and to the GNU GPL license.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: which companies are you referring to?

Miguel di Icaza: One of them is Helix Code, my company. And the other one is still "secret"; they will announce themselves this month.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: can't you give us a hint? ;-)

Miguel di Icaza: One very interesting thing about the GNOME approach is that we are big on components. We are big on doing reusable software ICs; instead of developing a "big" release, we have been incrementally developing small components that will be plugged into the system. So, various technologies are available right now for use by programmers without their having to wait for the big coordinated 2.0 release. For example, we have a Component/Compound document system (like OLE) called Bonobo, the new imaging system gdk-pixbuf, the new object activation framework (OAF), and the new configuration engine with notifications (GConf).

Jack Wallen, Jr.: is Helix Code working on the Office Suite?

Miguel di Icaza: Helix Code is working on productivity applications. Initially, we are writing a GroupWare suite, which has a mail client, a calendar client, and a contact database. All of this is integrated with a server for doing group-collaboration and enabling people to develop GroupWare applications. (Think "Outlook with Exchange.") We are also improving bits of the GNOME desktop, the Gnumeric spreadsheet, and contributing to the GNOME 2.0 release.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: i use GNOME, and one thing that I really enjoy is the upgrade process. however, I can see why some users might have issues with that process. do you (or either of the companies) plan on changing it anytime soon?

Miguel di Icaza: Yes, Helix Code and the new secret company are very focused on making free systems (GNU/Linux, FreeBSD) accessible to normal people. My mum, my grandmother, and my little brother should be able to manage their own computers without learning any UNIX. We want to bring free systems to the masses.

Vfolders, a victory for mail queries
Jack Wallen, Jr.: will the mail client be similar to Balsa?

Miguel di Icaza: The mail client is highly graphical, highly polished. I have not seen the recent developments in Balsa, but it is going to be very pretty. We’re adding a few concepts that we borrowed from some research prototypes that enable people to treat their mailboxes as a "web" of information. We’re providing a new concept called vFolders, which are folders that satisfy a query. for example, you can have a folder called "IPO discussions," in which all the mail that contains the word "IPO" is put. But this idea is just the result of a query on the database. The mail messages in this vFolder are "references" to the real messages.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: sort of like soft links, in Linux terms?

Miguel di Icaza: Not really. More like the results from a query on a Web search engine. Actually, you are right. Like symbolic links on Linux. These folders do not actually exist; they are solely a query. It is very nice because people are not forced to "choose" a scheme for organizing their mail. They can choose one arrangement today, and they can redo it next week without losing any information. For example, people might start with a "computers" folder, and a "friends" folder. As they become more aware of computer issues, they can split their "computers" folder into "GNOME" and "Intel." And every mail they had in the past will be filed properly. Or you can mix existing folders, and so on. We believe that such a system will address our needs. If we can address our needs today, we will be able to address people's needs in 5 years, when everyone on the planet will have an e-mail address.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: what about integration? You really are focusing on usability or re-usability, as the case may be. what about integrating with such applications as Word?

Miguel di Icaza: One of the problems with free software is that hackers don’t want to work on boring stuff or on stuff that is not very visible. So, having a company working on usability and boring stuff really pays off. We plan to become "the Linux applications” company eventually. So, we’ll be enhancing the AbiWord word processor to fit the needs of the community. We’re aware of the importance of being compatible with the industry standard.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: exactly. how do you get the best of the hackers to work on “boring stuff”?

Miguel di Icaza: We pay them. Helix Code is a real company with a real plan and real money to pay developers. So is the other company that will be announced this month.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: So AbiWord will be your word processor for the Office Suite? there’s already a usable version of this application, correct?

Miguel di Icaza: yes. AbiWord is very usable. We will be enhancing it to suit people's needs.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: where can users get a copy of AbiWord? should they just go to freshmeat ?

Miguel di Icaza:www.abisource.com . Helix Code will be doing a system of updates for people to update their desktop applications automatically. That way, everyone will be able to try out the latest and greatest GNOME technologies with a single click. One click GNOME trying! I hope that Amazon doesn’t sue us for using the expression "one click." It probably will be "two clicks."

How do you pronounce "GNOME"?
Jack Wallen, Jr.: You could always say “one Glick,” but that just doesn't have the same ring, I suppose!

Miguel di Icaza: Good point.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: did you come up with the name for GNOME? and could you please pronounce it for us? (I realize that we can't really hear you.)

Miguel di Icaza: Yes, I did come up with it. I don't think I ever pronounced it in my head when I came up with it. I just typed it.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: i've always said GuhNome.

Miguel di Icaza: I guess guhnome, nome, ge-nome are all good pronunciations. Just use the one that you feel comfortable with. We are flexible.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: as it seems. is there one thing in particular that you'd like to do with GNOME?

Miguel di Icaza: Many things. the main thing is polishing the user interface to make it very easy, very pleasant, and very adapted to a human. We want to make the software as natural as possible and, obviously, to write powerful applications that empower people.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: ladies and gents, please feel free to join in the discussion! remember we have prizes on the line tonight! and I can't win them.

New Linux RAD tools
Q: Could you speculate on the future of RAD tools, such as VB or Delphi for Gnome.

Miguel di Icaza: Well, there is Glade, which is a GUI designer. And the team at Red Hat recently started work on an IDE written in GNOME/Python. It’s pretty nice. Basically, it follows the philosophy of integrating various components. GNOME/Python and Glade are very useful for doing RAD. i have been impressed by the speed that it gives the programmer. For example, the Red Hat installation program was written in record time.

Q: What is RAD?

Miguel di Icaza: RAD stands for "Rapid Application Development."

Q: Are these drag-and-drop development tools for Linux GUIs?

Miguel di Icaza: Glade is a Drag-and-Drop development tool for GNOME.

Q: Where could a person go to begin learning how to develop for GNOME?

Miguel di Icaza: Havoc's book is a good starting point. His book is available for free from developer.gnome.org .

Building better user interfaces
Q: Thank you. I'm very interested in what you said earlier about making GUIs more usable for humans.How do you decide what is a better GUI approach?

Miguel di Icaza: The more we work on GNOME, the more we realize how important it is to have a very user-friendly system for people. We try to exploit good, known user interfaces. We are actively reading various books and specifications for making better user interfaces. And we no longer assume that "getting the job done" is enough. We polish the applications until they are super-intuitive and provide all of the feedback that people expect. Finally, users are the last frontier, and they are the ones who will provide the most useful input.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: is there anything that you would consider “borrowing” from Windows?

Miguel di Icaza: There is a team that collects all of the suggestions from people. They rate the suggestions and make all of them available to us after they have been classified.

Q: The word "intuitive" has been debated a lot. I'm a PC user. During the first time I used a MAC, I didn't find it intuitive at all.

Miguel di Icaza: That is correct.

Q: Is there such a thing as intuition when it comes to using a GUI?

Miguel di Icaza: Only 0.5% or so of the population of the planet has chosen an operating system so far. That still leaves 99.5% of the population. It definitely involves a learning process, but the lower we can make this barrier, the better.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: is this something that anyone can participate in?

Miguel di Icaza: Yes, people can contribute their GUI ideas to the GNOME UI team. I think that developer.gnome.org/gnome-ui has a link to the team.

The gnext GNOME will have an HTML editor
Jack Wallen, Jr.: what about HTML editors? does either company plan on creating such an application? (I understand that I'm talking WYSIWYG. *shudder*)

Miguel di Icaza: It’s funny that you should ask. We are indeed writing a WYSIWYG editor for HTML. It’s required by Evolution.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: isn't Evolution the name of the suite? or am I wrong here?

Miguel di Icaza: It’s still being debated. for now, Evolution stands for our GroupWare suite. The GNOME Office Suite is a separate project, and it has a large scope: apresentations program, a word processor, a spreadsheet, etc. www.gnome.org/gnome-office is the web page.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: well, does anyone else have any questions for our incomparable speaker? i do have one more question. it's been rumored that you are the world's largest coffee addict. is that true?

Miguel di Icaza: ha! Ha! Not really. I drink coffee—but not that much. from 3 to 6 cups a day.

Where did GNOME's footprint icon come from?
Q: The next generation is participating here. My daughter wants to know where the footprint icon came from.

Miguel di Icaza: A friend of ours had been doing icons for GNOME. Pretty much all of them had a purpose. But one of them was something he drew just for fun, and that was the footprint. It was later refined to look like a "G" during a contest. So, we can say that the logo was done out of fun.

Q: She says, "Cool."

Miguel di Icaza: You can check out the rest of his artwork at tigert.gimp.org/ . Say “hello” to your daughter for me.

Q: Hola.

Miguel di Icaza: Hola, I meant.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: if anyone is interested in winning the prizes you need to hang around. we'll be announcing the winner very shortly!

The next stable GNOME: coming soon
Q: When will the next stable release of GNOME be available and how will it differ from October GNOME?

Miguel di Icaza: Well, GNOME constantly releases stable packages (as well as unstable—for developers and beta testers). So, it is progressively done. Every once in a while, we do a coordinated release (like October GNOME). I believe that we will be doing another coordinated release in February/March—probably before the first GNOME conference in Paris. But "March GNOME" does not sound as nice as "October GNOME." So, we need to find another name soon.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: if people were interested in joining the GNOME development movement, how would they do so?

Miguel di Icaza: They would start by using GNOME.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: are you up for suggestions?

Miguel di Icaza: They need to find something that they can improve, extend, or develop from scratch. The GNOME community is pretty supportive, and they would get a lot of support. I would be glad to know how to improve this process.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: should people simply go to www.gnome.org and submit their suggestions?

Miguel di Icaza: That is one option, yes. The other one is filling out a "suggestion" at bugs.gnome.org , or they could use "bug Buddy," an application designed for letting users provide feedback to the team.

And now for our winner…
Moderator: We're at the end of Miguel's time, I'm afraid.First, let’s give a VERY heart-felt thanks to our guest. And now for the next thing—let the drum roll begin—tonight's winner of a full LinuxWorld Expo pass, a VMware license, and a copy of Quake III for Linux is...

Jack Wallen, Jr.: harry.

Moderator: The crowd applauds.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: harry, could you please send your contact information (e-mail and snail mail) to jwallen@techrepublic.com.

Q: Yes I will. Thanks.

Moderator: Harry's now well on his way to winning the Grand Prize‑one of those Athlon machines from Buypogo.com—as are all of you who participated tonight.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: Thank you very kindly, Miguel! thank you for your words and information. We all wish you and GNOME the best of luck on all your endeavors!

Miguel di Icaza: Congrats!

Q: congrats, Harry. Those are some cool prizes.

Q: g'night, all....

Jack Wallen, Jr.: Thank you, everyone. please return this Thursday (same time) for an open discussion on Linux!

Miguel di Icaza: Good night.

Jack Wallen, Jr.: we have more prizes to give away on Thursday!

Moderator: Thanks to everyone!

Jack Wallen, Jr.: miguel, anytime you want to address something to the public, feel free to send it my way. i'll gladly see what I can do! i guess that's all folks! thank you and grease for peace.
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