EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

When GNOME Met KDE: Q and A With GNOME Foundation Director Stormy Peters

The GNOME Project is widely recognized in the world of Linux as aleading developer community of a free and easy-to-use desktopenvironment. GNOME is part of the GNU/Linux Project.

The label “GNU” is a recursive acronym meaning GNU’s Not Unix, accordingto GNU.org. Based in Cambridge, Mass.,the GNOME Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the goals of the GNOME project. The Foundation is comprisedof a board of directors, the executive director and the membersconsisting of supporting vendors and individuals.

Among the Foundation’s primary duties are coordinating releases ofGNOME software and determining which projects are part of the GNOMEProject. The Foundation also acts as the official voice for the GNOMEProject. This maintains a communications channel with the media andcommercial and non-commercial organizations interested in GNOMEsoftware.

In case you were wondering, GNOME is pronounced with a “G” soundedlike the word “gun.” Say it as a one-syllable word with no vowel soundbetween the g and the n.

Perhaps as a sign of the Foundation’s continuing success with growingthe adoption of the GNOME desktop, the organization is seeking itsfirst system administrator. Foundation officials also began in 2009cohosting summits for developers with the KDE (K DesktopEnvironment).

LinuxInsider met recently with GNOME Foundation Executive DirectorStormy Peters to discuss the growth and development of GNOME.

LinuxInsider: How does the GNOME platform fit into the overall Linux scheme?

Stormy Peters:

GNOME is the user interface, so it is everything betweenthe user and the Linux operating system. So when you are using LinuxGNOME, it is the windows, the dialog boxes, where the close goes. Itincludes the applications you run.

LIN: When you’re using other desktops like KDE, are theysubsets of Gnome?

Peters:

KDE is probably the biggest competing interface toGNOME. Most distros use one or the other. A few like Canonical offeroptions for both [in Ubuntu]. We don’t look at ourselves as competing.The most prevalent use besides GNOME is KDE. We’re all a part of thefree software service. Our mission is to provide users with a freedesktop. We are all people working on that. We’ve not after competingwith them or competing with the non-free desktops.

LIN: Are applications for the two desktops mutually exclusive?

Peters:

You can run GNOME applications on KDE, and you can runKDE applications on GNOME. There is nothing to keep you from doingthat. Sometimes you have to also install other apps and or missinglibraries from the other desktop environment to make them all to work.

LIN: Why do Linux communities maintain so many differentdesktop environments like GNOME, KDE, X Window System?

Peters:

We do have different cultures of philosophies, so wethink something different is better for our end users. We willprobably always be different from each other. But wherever we cancooperate, that just furthers our mission. Sometimes we each havecompeting applications. For instance, we have Gnumeric as aspreadsheet, and KDE has a different one.

LIN: What is the mission behind the GNOME Foundation?

Peters:

Our goal, maybe more so than developers of proprietarydesktops and other Linux desktops, is to make sure that our desktop isaccessible to everybody. That may mean if you don’t want to pay forit, it’s free. If you speak some other language, we have it translatedinto something like 80 languages. If you have a disability, we want tomake sure that you can still use it. So we have things like screenreaders and online keyboards. The human interface guidelines are tomake it as easy for people to use. So we think the guidelines make iteasier for developers without making a burden for the users.

LIN: Why has the foundation begun cohosting conferences?

Peters:

In our meeting with the KDE conference, we’re trying tocooperate in our common goal of providing a free desktop. So whereverwe can agree to use common technology or work on the same thing, wewant to do that.

LIN: What do you find as the big battles in trying to reachthe foundation’s goals?

Peters:

The one big block to adoption from my perspective is amarketing one. I don’t think there is anything holding us back interms of functionality. It’s just that a lot more people have heardabout [Microsoft] Windows so they continue to use it because they knowit. When I tell my friends who should know what I’m doing here aboutGNOME that say, “Really, that’s what you’re using?”

LIN: Why is there a need for a system administrator at the foundation?

Peters:

A project the size of the GNOME Foundation has severalthousand people contributing to it. We have an infrastructure andaccounts to maintain and things that keep the project going. Right nowwe rely on a team of volunteers to do all of the work. And they areawesome. So we think that hiring an administrator to start outpart-time would free up our volunteers to spend more time writingcode, for example. We haven’t hired an administrator yet, but we arelooking for one with open source software experience.

LIN: Where does the revenue come to pay for it?

Peters:

Typically our staff is paid by the advisory boardmembers. We have a number of companies that fund GNOME and arecommitted to giving us a certain amount of money per year. They alsotend to give us more money for certain purposes. They’ve committed toa set amount that we can count on for salaries. We also have donespecific fund raising to help generate funds for an administrator. Wegot quite a bit of money from individuals as well as companies.

LIN: Do you see the free software movement gaining acceptancein business and industry?

Peters:

I think it’s gaining a huge amount of acceptance andtraction in the workplace. I think that most companies have somedegree of free software in use within their IT structure. It hasn’tgotten that same level of use with the end user. I think where it’sgoing now would be sort of the online Web, college user. We have afree software stack for most business services. We don’t have a freesoftware stack for all online services.

LIN: Is that hindering or discouraging the further adoptioncompared to Mac or Windows?

Peters:

No, I don’t think it is hindering people. People canstill use GNOME and Linux and all those nonfree Web services. But wejust want to make sure that users have their freedoms of choice. SoGNOME is starting to develop some of those online services. They willbe free in the sense of not free but having freedom to choose. There’snothing stopping you from using Flickr with Linux. In fact, it’sprobably better integrated into GNOME than a proprietary desktop.

LIN: What about plans for GNOME to develop its own set ofWeb-based tools?

Peters

I think that might be a way to go. Especially now thatFacebook is getting a whole bunch of negative publicity over securityconcerns. It presents an opportunity to show end users how GNOME takescare of the user.

LIN: What do you see as driving the movement for GNOME?

Peters:

People believe that software should be free. In thelast year it has gone mainstream as people realize that FOSS (FreeOpen Source Software) is easier and more cost effective.

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