I didn’t go!

A glass of water with lemon and mint

When I finally rolled up my sleeves and turned from a user to a contributor, my main interest was GNOME. Everybody was saying back then, in 2005, that the desktop is done with. The future is the web, the future is mobile. But I was stubborn; I loved the user-centered attitude in GNOME and the fantastic governance and community. I found myself working on accessibility for users with disabilities and loving it.

But here I am now, in my day job at Mozilla. Still doing accessibility, but focusing exclusively on the web, and on mobile. Yet I remained a GNOME enthusiast, and I always wait anxiously for the releases that come out twice a year when I need to try out every new feature.

It isn’t just an emotional thing. This has all gelled for me in a comprehensive analysis of the role of Free Software, and it goes something like this:

The web is important, it is a basic utility that everyone has a right to, and one company, or a consortium of them cannot hold any type of exclusivity. This is the internet that I and many of my peers first discovered in the 90s before the dot-com sleaze, and it is still the core of the internet today. The next billion users will discover the web through cheap mobile devices on a slow cell data network. They will never own a laptop, or have broadband access. The question is, will they have the same experience I did in the 90s, or will they be introduced to a limited walled garden that the phone manufacturers or carriers introduce them to? I see that as part of Mozilla’s core mission today, and it is what appeals to me. It is not a first world problem any more, and it is not primarily on the desktop any more.

So why is the desktop important? And why is GNOME important? Liberating users from corporate monopolies is one thing, but we need to liberate content authors as well. To produce quality content and applications for the web, we need to provide a free set of tools for doing it. The Free Desktop gives us that. It gives us GIMP, PiTiVi, and countless other tools with an appealing and comfortable environment that is designed to let us get work done. No need for Apple or Adobe, just some commodity hardware and you have a shop ready to get your message out there and make a difference. That is the empowering message of the desktop.

So to all the GUADEC regulars: I miss you guys. Maybe next year?