GNOME Will Try to Buff Up Linux

  • Written By: R. Krause
  • Published On: September 8 2000



GNOME Will Try to Buff Up Linux
R. Krause - September 8, 2000

Event Summary

In August at LinuxWorld, the GNOME project announced five major initiatives aimed at delivering an industry-wide open user environment. These initiatives are:

  • To establish the GNOME user environment as the unifying desktop for the Linux and Unix communities.

  • Adoption of OpenOffice.org technologies for integration into GNOME.

  • Integration of the Mozilla browser technology into GNOME.

  • Industry leaders to work together to improve the quality, reliability and accessibility of the GNOME user environment around the world.

  • Establishment of the GNOME framework as the standard for next generation Internet access devices.

"GNOME is receiving a tremendous boost in terms of support, backing and commitment for contribution and improvements," said Miguel de Icaza, founder of the GNOME project. "GNOME is now well positioned to be the next generation user environment, uniting the existing Linux and UNIX communities. We are building an alternative environment based on free software and open principles. By leveraging other open technologies we are able to maintain our focus on making the most attractive development environment."

GNOME has achieved significant acceptance from the Linux and Unix communities. Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard are announcing their adoption of GNOME as the future default user environment for Solaris and HP-UX, respectively. The GNOME user environment is the default for RedHat, TurboLinux and several other leading Linux distributions and is available for all major Linux distributions. As a result, this initiative will unify many variations of Unix under a single user environment. It creates a cost-effective framework based on open standards and open source that will enable developers to write solutions for many different platforms, while competing on implementations.

Based on StarOffice, an alternative competitive office productivity suite available on multiple platforms and the leading productivity suite for Linux, OpenOffice.org is the industry initiative to deliver open office productivity applications and its technologies are being adopted by the GNOME project for integration into the system. OpenOffice.org will leverage the Bonobo component model to create a number of object components, allowing these components to be used by a wide range of applications.

The Mozilla project is an industry initiative to deliver an open Internet browser. Mozilla browser technology, together with IBM's SashXB technology, will be integrated into GNOME to deliver an integrated browsing experience into its next generation user environment. GNOME has also integrated Mozilla with the Bonobo component system.

Eazel will provide Nautilus, an innovative file manager which serves as the starting point for Eazel's web-based system management services. Nautilus will provide a state-of-the art file manager for GNOME, with a fully-integrated Mozilla web-browser and a number of innovative new features. The Nautilus software will be integrated with web-based services that provide assistance with file management and system administration.

GnuCash will provide graphing and financial data handling infrastructure. Helix Code will provide Evolution, the integrated calendar, mail and contacts system, as well as its Bonobo component architecture which enables applications to be built out of reusable software components. In addition, Helix Code will deliver a new set of configuration and administration tools targeted to end users, including configuration snapshotting, rollback and cluster management.

Market Impact

If GNOME is successful, this will be the first of two (or maybe the second of three) key steps to make Linux a viable desktop market competitor to Windows. If a software desktop image is standardized, and is easy to use, that will go a long way toward negating an issue traditionally raised by Microsoft, i.e., the Windows desktop is essentially the same, and it's simpler to use than any Linux desktop. Whether we agree with that contention is immaterial, the market believes it to be true.

The other key to Linux desktop success is, as we've said before, getting enough useful desktop applications ported to Linux. In this case, we continue to believe that the key application (at least for business users) is MS Office. Sun's StarOffice, with more than 3 Million downloads to date, is a good starting point, but MS Office is the big dog in the desktop space.

[The other possible step, hinted at above, is installation ease. Windows is currently perceived by some as being easier to install than Linux, the implication being that the typical, i.e., non-expert, computer user will find Linux somewhat more difficult to install than Windows.]

With the backing of Compaq, HP, and IBM, GNOME stands a decent chance of being more than just a pipe dream. If the Gnome Foundation can also secure the support of Dell, Gateway and eMachines (less likely, but still possible), this will mean they have the support of all the top PC manufacturers in the US market, which will lead to increased market share - not enough to topple Windows, but enough to turn Linux into a legitimate desktop contender.

We have deliberately omitted discussion of KDE, the other main Linux desktop environment. More Linux developers presently use KDE than use GNOME (although many use both), so KDE is a strong player. The difference is the (current) lack of commitment by big hardware players.

User Recommendations

As with most "new" technologies, we suggest potential users exercise caution. However, once the bugs have been wrung out, we expect GNOME to present a reasonable desktop alternative for those users wishing to go with Linux.

The Helix GNOME presentation, although a tad rough, has a look and feel very similar to Windows. (We also like the KDE presentation, by the way.) This will help Windows users make the transition. In addition to the desktop GUI, users have a number of applications (spreadsheet, word processing e-mail/calendar) downloadable directly from the Helix Code website. A number of these applications are compatible with Windows apps (e.g., MS Word, Excel), helping to overcome cross-platform issues slightly.

In short, this environment, although relatively early in the game (for GNOME, that is), should build up a fully integrated set of applications within 1-2 years.

We suggest current (or potential) Linux users give Helix GNOME a try, to see if hype matches reality.

 
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