1. Which version of GNOME is Ximian Desktop 2.0 based on exactly, and what changes have you applied when compared to the vanilla Gnome?
Nat Friedman: XD2, as we like to call it, is based on GNOME 2.2, Mozilla 1.3 and OpenOffice.org 1.0.3.
We've spent a lot of time polishing the user experience and making sure things just work. Our focus is on creating _usability through consistency_, which lowers support costs for big organizations that replace Windows machines with Linux.
We have a new desktop theme called Industrial which themes GTK version 1 and 2. It's also a Nautilus theme, a Galeon theme, an XMMS theme, an OpenOffice.org theme, a Metacity theme, and an Icon theme. This means that the desktop looks and feels unified.
One of the big problems we solved was the printing UI. Using CUPS as the backend, most printers are now automatically detected and configured, even if they're on the network. We also added a simple printer configuration wizard. Configured Printers show up in your file manager and can be easily reconfigured to change things like paper sizes, using a familiar interface. Small things matter: your printer jobs appear on the panel until they are done, so you know when to pick up the results. Large things matter too: when printing from an application, just click on the printer you want to print to. For most people, this solves the Linux printing problem pretty well.
We've also worked on file sharing for people in corporate networks. Users often have trouble understanding why they need to mount network drives before they can use them. We've made NFS and SMB share browsing easy, and made it possible for most applications we ship to open files on unmounted shares. It's pretty slick when you try it the first time; especially as a demo at a customer site with unprotected SMB shares ;-).
When GNOME 2.4 comes out, we'll likely issue a follow-on release not long after which will be based on the 2.4 modules. We are currently working on porting our OOo patches to OOo 1.1, which includes a lot of nice features.
2. I read on your web page that Ximian Connector supports Microsoft Exchange 2000. Is Exchange "Titanium" support planed? How "easy" is to implement an alien technology like Exchange under Unix?
Nat Friedman: Yep, Ximian Connector does support Exchange 2000. There are a lot of people who've been able to ditch their Windows machines and switch over to Linux because they can now use their Exchange server for calendaring and collaboration from their Linux desktop.
We don't support earlier versions of Exchange because it is really hard to do all the MAPI/DCE-RPC stuff natively from Linux, and we expect most Exchange customers to migrate off Exchange 5.5 eventually.
We plan to support Exchange 2003 ("Titanium") as soon as it is released. We already have the prerelease versions from MSDN. We expect the final release to be this summer, and most of the work we'll have to do will be testing to make sure the current Connector still works against the new server version.
The Connector is an interoperability product, and interoperability software is never really "easy." Especially when it has to interoperate with a largely undocumented or misdocumented protocol and service. You can look at projects like Wine and Lesstif as extreme examples of the difficulty of building perfect compatibility software.
It's probably fair to say that the ratio of time our Connector developers spend in the debugger versus the Emacs buffer is higher than with most software. It's not as high as with Wine; Jeremy White from Codeweavers will tell you that his hackers spend very close to 100% of their time in gdb.