GNOME: ‘staring into the abyss’

Honest question. Do you think the GNOME project is as healthy today as it was, say, 4 years ago? Benjamin Otte explains that no, it isn’t. GNOME lacks developers, goals, mindshare and users. The situation as he describes it, is a lot more dire than I personally thought.

GNOME 3 has always been a controversial product. GNOME 2.x was refined for years to a very usable and nice desktop environment – I loved it – and you’d think that with a base as good as this, GNOME 3 would build upon it. Instead, and the GNOME team should be commended for this, they decided to more or less start from scratch (UI-wise) and try and come up with something new and fresh.

Sadly, this didn’t turn out very well. Many GNOME 2 users were upset because GNOME 3 had little to nothing in common with what came before, and it seemed explicitly designed to be as inflexible as possible. It felt more like an idealised concept designed for users from a perfect fairytale kingdom than for actual, real-world users. Personally, I quickly lost interest because it was clear to me that as a big fan of the straightforwardness of GNOME 2.x I was no longer part of GNOME’s target user group. No hard feelings though – projects change focus, it happens.

The marketplace, if you can call it as such, didn’t like GNOME 3 either. The biggest GNOME advocate up until then, Ubuntu, didn’t like GNOME 3’s direction, and early on started working on Unity. Mint, another popular Linux distribution, ignored GNOME 3 as well, and is working on the Cinnamon project.

A shrinking userbase obviously has consequences: less developers. Not only the influx of new blood suffers, but old blood is leaving the project as well, and currently, GNOME is understaffed. “For anecdotal numbers: GTK has 1 person working full-time on it (me). Glib doesn’t even have that. I think Evolution is in a similar situation (a complete email client)”, Otte notes, “We can also try Ohloh’s statistics for GNOME (they include 131 packages, including GStreamer and NetworkManager). You’ll see a sharp drop off of committers on the first page already which suggests around 20 full-time developers at most.”

Anecdotal or no, such numbers do not bode well when you take the sheer size of the GNOME project into account. This is not a project that can be succesfully developed by a handful of developers – it needs more than that. And, Otte points out, the situation is only getting worse, since traditional GNOME/Gtk supporters, like SUSE and Nokia, are backing down.

Lastly, he explains, GNOME has no goals, and without goals, there’s no direction, nor a way to measure yourself. “In fact, these days GNOME describes itself as a ‘community that makes great software’, which is as nondescript as you can get for software development,” he states, “The biggest problem with having no goals is that you can’t measure yourself. Nobody can say if GNOME 3 is better or worse than GNOME 2. There is no recognized metric anywhere. This also leads to frustration in lots of places.”

In my view, this is what happens when you make software for hypothetical users, instead of for real users. It’s great to have all sorts of ideas about how users should work and developer a user interface to match, but if users don’t actually work that way at all, you’re left with an environment nobody wants to use. Microsoft can take such a gamble with Metro because it will ship on every computer anyway; GNOME does not have that luxury.

I’m getting the feeling these concerns aren’t exactly new, and that a solution isn’t exactly right around the corner. GNOME took a gamble, and it isn’t working out. I’m sure we’ll see enough comments from people who like GNOME 3, but there’s simply not enough of you. That doesn’t mean GNOME 3 sucks – it simply means it isn’t popular enough to sustain itself.

Add to all this the fact that GNOME has zero presence on the next wave of devices (tablets and smartphones) and the picture is complete – and dire. Sadly, I’m afraid heels will be dug into the sand regarding GNOME 3, and we’ll see a doubling-down on an environment people simply don’t want, instead of trying to find out what users do want.

We’ll see.

157 Comments

  1. zizban 2012-07-27 1:03 pm EST
    • shmerl 2012-07-27 10:35 pm EST
      • sj87 2012-07-28 5:03 am EST
        • Nth_Man 2012-07-28 10:08 am EST
        • Carewolf 2012-07-28 10:59 am EST
          • phoenix 2012-07-30 8:28 pm EST
        • segedunum 2012-07-28 1:34 pm EST
        • shmerl 2012-07-29 3:31 am EST
      • iswrong 2012-07-28 6:20 am EST
  2. mdoverkil 2012-07-27 1:07 pm EST
    • Luminair 2012-07-28 6:03 am EST
  3. MacMan 2012-07-27 1:09 pm EST
    • ple_mono 2012-07-27 6:29 pm EST
    • Risthel 2012-07-30 12:08 pm EST
  4. Beta 2012-07-27 1:41 pm EST
    • the_wipet_biscuit 2012-07-27 2:25 pm EST
    • spudley99 2012-07-27 2:44 pm EST
    • Morgul 2012-07-27 5:01 pm EST
      • Elv13 2012-07-28 5:37 pm EST
    • Kivada 2012-07-27 5:03 pm EST
  5. drcouzelis 2012-07-27 1:44 pm EST
    • AnXa 2012-07-27 1:52 pm EST
      • cdude 2012-07-27 10:25 pm EST
      • zima 2012-08-03 11:55 pm EST
  6. AnXa 2012-07-27 1:46 pm EST
    • Stephen! 2012-07-27 5:18 pm EST
      • Morgan 2012-07-27 6:37 pm EST
        • cdude 2012-07-27 10:30 pm EST
        • shmerl 2012-07-27 10:43 pm EST
          • Morgan 2012-07-28 12:40 am EST
      • zima 2012-08-01 11:07 am EST
    • ple_mono 2012-07-27 6:44 pm EST
      • Carewolf 2012-07-28 11:21 am EST
        • boudewijn 2012-07-28 12:24 pm EST
        • segedunum 2012-07-28 1:44 pm EST
      • segedunum 2012-07-28 1:40 pm EST
        • WereCatf 2012-07-28 3:42 pm EST
          • boudewijn 2012-07-28 4:06 pm EST
          • Morgan 2012-07-28 5:53 pm EST
          • boudewijn 2012-07-28 6:30 pm EST
          • Morgan 2012-07-29 1:55 am EST
          • boudewijn 2012-07-29 6:13 am EST
          • Nth_Man 2012-07-29 8:16 am EST
          • WereCatf 2012-07-28 6:00 pm EST
          • boudewijn 2012-07-28 6:32 pm EST
          • Nth_Man 2012-07-29 7:49 am EST
          • Nth_Man 2012-07-29 8:01 am EST
          • segedunum 2012-07-30 8:37 am EST
        • ple_mono 2012-07-28 9:58 pm EST
          • cdude 2012-07-29 2:38 am EST
    • WereCatf 2012-07-28 5:23 am EST
      • segedunum 2012-07-28 2:16 pm EST
      • dsmogor 2012-07-28 10:28 pm EST
  7. hussam 2012-07-27 1:53 pm EST
    • hhas 2012-07-27 3:53 pm EST
      • hhas 2012-07-27 4:44 pm EST
      • ple_mono 2012-07-27 6:52 pm EST
      • Gone fishing 2012-07-28 9:35 am EST
        • _txf_ 2012-07-28 1:54 pm EST
      • dsmogor 2012-07-28 10:57 pm EST
        • hhas 2012-07-29 1:00 am EST
      • zima 2012-08-03 11:49 pm EST
    • earksiinni 2012-07-27 6:39 pm EST
    • Soulbender 2012-07-27 8:01 pm EST
      • dylansmrjones 2012-07-27 8:10 pm EST
    • david_thomson 2012-07-29 11:35 pm EST
  8. peteo 2012-07-27 2:20 pm EST
    • Netfun81 2012-07-27 8:15 pm EST
      • zima 2012-08-01 10:51 am EST
    • cdude 2012-07-27 10:37 pm EST
      • Lobotomik 2012-07-28 9:48 am EST
      • BluenoseJake 2012-07-28 7:41 pm EST
        • cdude 2012-07-29 2:56 am EST
          • BluenoseJake 2012-07-29 3:47 am EST
          • cdude 2012-07-29 6:02 pm EST
          • BluenoseJake 2012-07-30 12:44 am EST
  9. tomz 2012-07-27 2:29 pm EST
    • cdude 2012-07-27 10:39 pm EST
  10. jessesmith 2012-07-27 3:08 pm EST
    • cdude 2012-07-27 10:41 pm EST
  11. NewTron 2012-07-27 3:20 pm EST
  12. jaypee 2012-07-27 3:38 pm EST
  13. Dr.Mabuse 2012-07-27 3:48 pm EST
    • moondevil 2012-07-27 4:14 pm EST
      • Dr.Mabuse 2012-07-27 4:20 pm EST
        • moondevil 2012-07-27 7:47 pm EST
          • cdude 2012-07-29 3:18 am EST
    • pgeorgi 2012-07-27 5:25 pm EST
  14. WakaJawaka 2012-07-27 4:22 pm EST
  15. johntdaly 2012-07-27 4:56 pm EST
    • Luminair 2012-07-28 5:43 am EST
    • ggeldenhuys 2012-08-01 10:52 am EST
  16. spiderman 2012-07-27 5:00 pm EST
  17. UltraZelda64 2012-07-27 5:29 pm EST
  18. SonicMetalMan 2012-07-27 5:30 pm EST
  19. vivainio 2012-07-27 6:26 pm EST
    • moondevil 2012-07-27 7:49 pm EST
      • vivainio 2012-07-27 8:28 pm EST
        • moondevil 2012-07-27 9:04 pm EST
        • siride 2012-07-28 5:33 am EST
    • cdude 2012-07-27 10:55 pm EST
  20. benali72 2012-07-27 6:42 pm EST
    • MollyC 2012-07-28 6:56 am EST
      • Nth_Man 2012-07-28 9:17 am EST
      • Morgan 2012-07-28 6:12 pm EST
  21. Anonymous Penguin 2012-07-27 6:52 pm EST
  22. Bill Shooter of Bul 2012-07-27 7:23 pm EST
    • snowbender 2012-07-27 9:20 pm EST
      • bouhko 2012-07-27 10:13 pm EST
        • znby 2012-07-28 11:07 am EST
      • Bill Shooter of Bul 2012-07-28 2:03 pm EST
        • snowbender 2012-07-30 7:18 pm EST
    • Yoko_T 2012-08-01 11:15 pm EST
  23. bigdog 2012-07-27 7:29 pm EST
    • Bill Shooter of Bul 2012-07-28 2:07 pm EST
  24. fretinator 2012-07-27 7:38 pm EST
    • snowbender 2012-07-27 9:27 pm EST
  25. uteck 2012-07-27 7:56 pm EST
    • Soulbender 2012-07-27 8:05 pm EST
      • uteck 2012-07-28 1:43 am EST
        • Gone fishing 2012-07-28 8:55 am EST
          • Morgan 2012-07-28 1:50 pm EST
          • Soulbender 2012-07-28 2:06 pm EST
          • Morgan 2012-07-28 2:11 pm EST
          • Savior 2012-07-31 2:15 pm EST
          • Soulbender 2012-08-01 3:40 am EST
          • Gone fishing 2012-07-28 5:41 pm EST
        • Soulbender 2012-07-28 2:10 pm EST
  26. derstef 2012-07-27 8:42 pm EST
    • derstef 2012-07-27 9:26 pm EST
    • WereCatf 2012-07-28 5:55 am EST
  27. another_sam 2012-07-27 9:24 pm EST
    • WereCatf 2012-07-28 5:44 am EST
      • Morgan 2012-07-28 1:55 pm EST
    • gilboa 2012-07-29 5:21 pm EST
  28. ichi 2012-07-27 9:26 pm EST
  29. spiderman 2012-07-27 10:14 pm EST
  30. ozonehole 2012-07-27 11:11 pm EST
  31. stabbyjones 2012-07-28 1:30 am EST
  32. Luminair 2012-07-28 5:22 am EST
  33. kaiwai 2012-07-28 12:59 pm EST
  34. andih 2012-07-28 6:29 pm EST
  35. dexter11 2012-07-28 9:58 pm EST
  36. Auzy 2012-07-28 10:29 pm EST
  37. Frederik 2012-07-29 7:52 am EST
    • WakaJawaka 2012-07-29 8:08 am EST
  38. Jason Bourne 2012-07-29 3:45 pm EST
    • chris_dk 2012-07-30 8:12 am EST
      • Jason Bourne 2012-07-30 2:51 pm EST
  39. perfectreign 2012-07-31 3:07 am EST
  40. ndrw 2012-07-31 3:33 am EST
  41. mojmir 2012-07-31 10:02 am EST
    • Soulbender 2012-07-31 10:11 am EST
      • mojmir 2012-07-31 2:53 pm EST
    • Jason Bourne 2012-07-31 4:00 pm EST
  42. juzzlin 2012-07-31 7:04 pm EST
  43. perfectreign 2012-08-01 3:26 am EST