GNOME Answers Criticisms

Key personnel in the GNOME Project respond to the Linux desktop's highly vocal critics.


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Since GNOME 3 was released in April 2011, the criticism has often been harsh (and, yes, I contributed to it myself). Seventeen months later, it shows few signs of ending, and Linux Mint has released Cinnamon and Mate, two popular re-creations of GNOME 2, as an alternative. Yet aside from the occasional comment from individuals, the GNOME Project itself has refrained from answering.

That is, until now.

The other week, my article "GNOME: Seven Possible Recovery Strategies" was condemned on the GNOME Marketing List. The resulting conversation ended with GNOME project members writing a group response about how they viewed what was being said about GNOME 3.

The result isn't as official as an announcement by the GNOME Official. But the impromptu committee that crafted the answer included Karen Sandler, the Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation and Allan Day, the designer who was instrumental in creating the GNOME Shell, and continues to shape its development.

Other members of the committee include GNOME developer Juanjo Marin and Sri Ramkrishna and Emily Gonyer, both of whom are active in GNOME marketing.

So, while not quite official, their collective answers are as official as we are likely to get. If nothing else, they are thorough.

Anyone who's interested has heard the complaints many times. For that reason, for once I will mostly confine myself to editing for clarity, and allow these voices from GNOME to speak for themselves as they talk about the general and specific complaints about GNOME 3, and where GNOME is heading in the next few years.

Why have complaints been so vocal about the GNOME 3 release series?

People who complain are often more vocal, and many of their complaints are about particular parts of GNOME 3. We have studied all of the complaints, and have tried to take them into consideration in the new iterations of GNOME 3. You'll see that a number of the complaints in early 3.0 days were addressed in 3.2 and 3.4, for example.

Looking back, could anything have been done to prevent the complaints?

Any time you undertake such a major change in something people care about, there will be complaints. Perhaps some of the complaints could have been avoided if we'd been able to introduce the extensions framework earlier [which allows plug-in to add features to the GNOME Shell land change its behavior].

Has the reception of GNOME 3 affected the project's approach to development?

The transition to a major new version of GNOME is not easy. GNOME 3 won the Product of the Year in Linux Journal Readers' Choice Awards 2011, so the reception hasn't been all bad.

GNOME 3 certainly still has some rough edges that need to be smoothed out. However, even the early releases of GNOME 3 offer a better user experience for many users, and expect most of them will be very happy with GNOME 3.

More specifically, we have implemented some improvements in GNOME 3. For example, we have a feature-based development process, and have already seen far more new features in the 3.x series than in 2.x. Additionally, GNOME 3 was a big shift for the project, but it was one-off -- we don't expect to be making those kinds of changes for a long, long time to come.

What do you think of projects like Mate and Cinnamon, which keep the GNOME 2 structure alive or else re-create it on top of GNOME 3? Is the popularity of Linux Mint, which developed both, a reaction to GNOME 3?

We're glad that you mentioned Linux Mint, as it's a good example of the high quality of GNOME 3 technologies. Rather than rejecting GNOME 3, as we understand they initially considered doing, after a close evaluation the Linux Mint Developers decided to build Cinnamon with it. So it's actually a validation of GNOME 3 technologies. Mate is more a maintenance effort of the GNOME 2 code base.

To what extent is GNOME in trouble, as some developers recently suggested?

You are probably referring to the one developer who wrote one blog post which has got a lot of attention (even though many of the claims that were made in that post have been shown to be incorrect). There have actually been many posts from different perspectives, and many have been positive about where GNOME is going).

In many respects, GNOME is far healthier than it was during the end of the GNOME 2 period. Compared with back then, there is a huge amount of work being done, much greater technical progress, and a massive amount more energy in the community. From the perspective of our own community growth and enthusiasm, GNOME 3 has been a great success.

Is part of the current perception of GNOME due to a lack of marketing?

Marketing GNOME 3 has been challenging, in part because GNOME continues to be a community project. Because we are a community project we have limited resources, which sometimes results in less than ideal results.

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Tags: Linux, Gnome

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