More serious efforts to promote GNOME seem to date from "A Bright Future for GNOME," a talk delivered by Xan Lopez and Juan Jose Sanchez at the 2012 GUADEC.
Lopez and Sanchez identified a number of problems with GNOME, starting with a lack of direction and vision and a loss of developers and users, and suggested a number of redirections. Instead of remaining a traditional desktop, they suggested, GNOME should explore offering cloud services and an app store, and expanding to new hardware platforms.
This talk was followed at GUADEC by a “birds of a feather” session for planning. GNOME emerged from the talk and the planning session with the concept of GNOMEOS -- not quite a separate operating system or a distribution, according to Allan Day, but an installation with tools like a Software Developer's Kit and support for new types of devices.
The goals of GNOMEOS are to make development of both software and interfaces more easy, and to make displaying the project's efforts to interested outsiders easier. These efforts continue largely under the radar, although GNOMEOS was one of the topics scheduled for discussion at the recent GNOME Boston Summit.
This year, too, GNOME has extended its outreach into the community. GNOME observers attended the User Observation Hackfest to observe first hand how ordinary users reacted to GNOME. In addition, the Friends of GNOME campaign started to raise funds and emphasize accessibility, while the GBeers campaign recently begun focusing on grassroots meetings.
Whether such efforts will be enough to restore the popularity of mainstream GNOME is anyone's guess at this point. Some might wonder if any of these efforts, no matter how ambitious or well meaning, will be enough if GNOME doesn't learn to listen to users more. But, for now, what matters is that the diversity of desktops is leading at least one major player to efforts that it might not have otherwise considered.
GNOME's reaction to its change of status seems proof that competition can be creatively healthy. So long as GNOME was one of two dominant desktops, the project had little incentive to innovate. It could simply go on for years introducing small changes without altering much of anything. Now, confronting either a loss of influence or a major shift in roles, it has the motivation to be more adventuresome.
Of course, as the user revolts of the last few years of shown, innovation for its own sake is not enough. GNOME may still be dragged down by its insistence on staying the course with GNOME 3, despite all its efforts to expand in new directions. But what matters is that, with the diversification of desktop Linux, it has reason for trying. For that reason alone, diversification seems worth having.
Somewhere in the next few years, diversification on the desktop may slow down. It might even diminish, with two or three distributions becoming dominant, although given the individualism of Linux users,that seems unlikely.
Meanwhile, I only hope that diversification encourages other interface developers to follow GNOME's example. After the conservatism that the user revolts have caused, desktop Linux needs something to encourage innovation again.