I wanted to give my one cent about the GNOME project, and where I think it could be successful. It would be two cents if I were actually involved in any constructive manner, but I am not. So it is one cent.
Ever since I started contributing to GNOME, the looming questions have been mobile, web, and social. Every keynote at GUADEC has tugged us in that direction, or promised to “reboot” the effort. If it is Big Board and Mugshot, Pyro Desktop, Telepathy and the collaboration it was supposed to bring, the countless OpenedHand and Nokia innovations, etc. We have all been running around like a chicken with its head cut off ever since I remember, trying to capture the essence of these new trends and remain relevant.
Apple revolutionized not just mobile, but reinvented the mainstream computing form factor. Facebook made “social” ubiquitous, and Google is doing what it is doing to the web. In the meantime, I never gained any following on Last.fm from all those years of scrobbling music with Rhythmbox and Banshee, I never got an opportunity to use Telepathy tubes with any real live person, and apparently my Mugshot profile is gone. My eyes also got tired of squinting at XTerm on my N900.
Last year in Berlin, the lack of direction was apparent. Almost every keynote that I remember was given by one kind of designer or another. Somewhere along the line we confused design with leadership. At least there wasn’t as much self delusion about our bright future on mobile.
But there is a way out of this rut. And it requires acknowledging our weaknesses and exploiting our strengths.
Our weak areas are apparent: We are not mobile and we are very far from it. We will never achieve any significant social critical mass, we have had limited successes in embracing web technologies, but the web will always be a better web. Deploying “apps” is a nightmare.
Our strengths are pretty obvious too: In the last few years we successfully refreshed the desktop work flow and our entire framework. We support many productivity and authoring tools. We created a distraction free environment that lets users get work done. We run on commodity hardware. We are free. We have a windowed multitasking environment. We work really well with a screen, mouse and keyboard (not to be taken for granted, look at all the awkward Android tablet keyboard combos out there). More than one web browser supports us. There is a more than fully functional office suite that works well with us. Etc.
So instead of aspiring to be in every consumer gadget out there, I think we should aspire to be the work horse of choice for every content creator out there. This includes mobile/web developers, graphic designers, artists, bloggers, video bloggers, authors, journalists, podcast producers, and every other kind of content creator that makes the mobile web and social such a vital space for the rest of the world. We need to refocus on the desktop.
Let’s leave the mission of bringing free software to mobile and the web to others. Other groups are doing a great job there. They are in their element; let’s remain in ours. We should focus on the production end of the New Media pipeline.
Projects such as The GIMP, PiTiVi, Anjuta, Blender and Libre Office should be our bread and butter. We should strive to stay ahead of the curve on the authoring end. We should document and support Android and Unity development. The Wacom tablet support that landed recently is a good example of what we could be doing.
It feels like GNOME is being maintained by a skeleton crew, and a shrinking set of corporate stakeholders. I think it is time to be realistic about what we could excel at, and go there. We don’t have to be on every existing form factor to achieve world domination. The cloud, and all these cheap new gadgets have lowered the barrier to access. We could lower the barrier of authorship, and enable people to create new and rich content.