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Preview: GNOME Rocks My World

GNOME Rocks My World

My thoughts about my favourite GUI

Updated: 2016-03-26T22:51:06.922+13:00


Notifications in GNOME Shell


Hmm. Only five years since my last blog post.  How time flies! Perhaps I am still stuck in the mind-set of "If you don't have anything interesting or useful to say, why say anything?" As an academic, I should know better!

Anyway, I can't keep quiet any longer about the notifications "feature" of GNOME Shell. I've never been able to understand the logic behind the design decision that clicking anywhere on a message deletes it, and delete it forever. Time and again I've read notifications that seem to be important, but been unable to respond to the information that is  evidently important enough to warrant a notification. Apparently the latest version of GNOME has a redesigned notifications facility, so I thought maybe things had changed. But apparently not. The core message of the notifications feature seems to be that it's for stuff that's not important enough for the user to respond to.
Figure 1: where is the important stuff?
This morning I had a classic situation. Something along the lines of "Failed to execute BOOT=/vmlinuz ... You might like to contact the developer", or something like that. That seemed fairly serious. But when I clicked on the notification, it disappeared (as I kinda expected). But I wasn't really sure that would happen, so I took a chance.  Because, in my experience, all kinds of things can happen when you attempt to respond to notifications:
  • Sometimes when you click on notifications, an application gets launched, e.g. clicking on an appointment notification launches Evolution. That's fine, but it would be nice to have some indication that this will happen. Not a biggie, though.
  • Sometimes clicking on it does nothing. If you want to get rid of it, you can click the handy "delete" icon (an x in a circle). That seems fairly sane to me.
  • Most often, the message disappears. And if you click by accident, there is no way to recover, i.e. no way to get a list of previous notifications. (OK, maybe there is a way, but I'm a user, not a hacker)
  • Sometimes, even if a notification has a delete icon, you don't have to click on it to delete the notification. Clicking anywhere will do the trick. How is that logical?
There appears to be no way to tell in advance what will happen when you click on a notification, hence my attitude of "try something and see what happens".  Is this any way for a supposedly core feature of the GNOME experience to function? Is anyone else perplexed and frustrated by this behaviour? Or am I out of touch with the way that the majority of users interact with their desktops?

I don't really like complaining, because I really appreciate all the hard work that the GNOME hackers do, the fruits of which I get to enjoy for free! So: thank you!



A small observation on usability for today: why do some applications that have a list of recently used files make the list so small?  Many default to nine.  Think how much more useful that list would be if it was longer.  Also, think how simple it would be to make it longer, and how much extra resources (storage space, processing required to render) it would consume.

Alas, I do not have the skills to submit patches to the various projects that could benefit from this idea.  I am but a humble user.  I want to see GNOME succeed. 

My definition of "success" is not to gain significant market share against Windows or MacOS (or anything else).  It is this: to be the most enjoyable human-computer-interface in existence, both for users and developers.

Thank you to all the GNOME hackers for your efforts so far.  They are very much appreciated by me, and I guess quite a few (hundred of thousands, or millions) of people throughout the world who are not programmers but who merely want to use their devices to do stuff.

Branding 101


A while ago there was a big effort to make all the various "official" GNOME web sites consistent in some minimal way.  The reason for this was the reconition that "branding" is important.

So, imagine you are a potential new user or reporter trying to figure out what GNOME is all about by checking out the GNOME info-web.

Currently, if you Google for "GNOME", you get the correct result (for us): the first hit is, check.

On this page the top line navbar elements are
  1. News (, didn't load for me today
  2. Projects (
  3. Art (
  4. Support (
  5. Development (
  6. Community (
From a cursory top-level examination the potential convert or evangelist will find that
  1. There is no news (OK, maybe that's a transient error)
  2. There are a mixture of headers navigational elements in the "official" GNOME web (art, developer)
  3. The developer docs are extremely out of data
So far not good, but maybe not too bad.

But what if you Google for "GNOME support"?  Currently the first hit is  Seems reasonable.  But you get to a site that at first glance looks nothing like the "official" GNOME sites.  Maybe this is a third part ("Community") site?  Who knows?  You certainly can't tell from the page itself.  The "About" link doesn't tell you about, it takes you to; probably not what you'd expect.

All in all, not a good first impression.  And it seems so easy to fix.  We tried to fix this in the past.  Why couldn't we?

Why am I led to the conclusion that the people in control of those sites just don't care about the user-facing side of their efforts?  I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but rather there seems to be a disconnect about what we say and what we do.  If we really care about the users, why do we make life harder than it needs to be for them?

Did I say "them"?  Sorry, I meant "us".


The first comment on this post shows exactly the problem with many open source and Free software developers attitude to users:

"Why do you switch from 'why couldn't we' to above accusation?

Everyone having SVN can improve. Instead of asking who does it, do it already or quit complaining, too easy."

I rest my case.  Developers don't care about users.  If a user offers constructive and actionable feedback, the guaranteed reply is "do it yourself".  Is it any wonder we haven't acheived Word Domination, or at least 10x10 by now?

But I'm not bitter.  I will stick with GNOME until I die, and weather the flames generated from trying to help.

Peace and love,


Visions of GNOME 3.0


IntroductionI've been silently digesting all the GNOME 3.0 thoughts for a while now. Then, yesterday, I installed KDE 4.1 and all of a sudden things kinda crystallised in my mind. I'm a marketing person, so I tend to think in terms of users; and user needs and wants.In what follows, I will assume that in any GNOME 3.0 release the GNOME 2.x values (Powerful, Simple) will be incorporated. I would like to see GNOME's next major release add to that list and I've got a tag-line all ready: GNOME 3.0: Helpful. In what follows I will try to explain what this means and why I think it's a good idea.What do you mean, "Helpful"?I mean that GNOME (the development platform and the bunch of officially blessed applications that comprise a release set) is a set of enabling technologies that enable developers and users to get stuff done using computers without putting barriers in the way. In other words, user experience.What, then, are the barriers that get in the way of getting stuff done? What would produce a qualitatively different release of GNOME, one that makes using it feel different?Uninterrupted workflowHas it worked?Why, why, why does it take the simplest of applications (a text editor or a terminal) more than a second to start up? At least there's a little animation to tell me that my request is being considered, but why is it taking so long? Should I be worried? And if the animation happens for requests (commands) that take a long time, why doesn't it happen for all of them? Many times I've clicked on the update manager icon in the panel twice (with a delay of a second or two between clicks) because nothing seems to be happening. And then, of course, I get two instances of the application running (eventually).This behaviour interrupts work-flow and train-of-thought. Application startup time is a seemingly small issue, but consider how it would feel to use a computer when there was more-or-less instant reaction to user input. It would become a qualitatively different experience.With the work on GNOME-Mobile underway, can we get that work for re-jigging GNOME to work well on resource-constrained machines back into "mainstream" GNOME? Please? That would be really helpful.Has it crashed?Why, oh why, do applications fail to repaint the screen or respond to user input (mouse clicks, for example) while they are waiting on disk or network I/O? Has the application crashed (and do I need to kill it?) or is it actually working "normally"? Do I have do interrupt what I'm doing to attend to it, or shall I just wait?It has crashed! Why?OK, so a GNOME application has crashed. What do I do now? Start it again and hope it doesn't crash again? And if I got an error message, does it actually give me (a non-programmer) a clue about what to do in order to prevent it crashing again? If it's a problem that others have faced and solved, can I get their solutions quickly and easily? (Reverse Bugzilla?)Helpful summarySo, priorities for GNOME 3.0 from the user-experience point of view. In summary we need to increase responsiveness:Reduce application startup timeEliminate blocking UI on I/OAutomatic bug reportingAutomatic bug solution/work-around suggestionThat would be helpful.Mutual HelpAll the above is about developers helping users. But how can users help developers? By writing documentation, of course! But it be "user" we mean "non-programmer", how easy is it for a user to "contribute" to the community rather than just taking?User-contributed DocumentationIt seems to be a truism that programmers hate to write documentation. Well, maybe not hate: probably they've just got better (more interesting) things to do. So let's harness the type of goodwill that gets people posting to user-to-user help forums and writing Wikipedia articles. But let's not start another "social networking" web site. Let's put the good stuff into the documentation that comes with the software.Currently in order to do that a user must learn a markup language, and henc[...]



Linux is user-friendly. Gone are the days of "RTFM". Yeah, right.


How much extra effort would it have taken to provide, in the widget, a link (or at least a clue!) to the Fine Manual?

What about more options for the user. What do you mean "Don't show me this again"? Ever? What if I want to ignore the error for now (the computer is still working, so I want to actually use it) but come back to it later? If I want to file a bug, how in the name of ${DEITY} can I figure out what "product" or "component" to file it against?

Sorry for the rant. After having watched the excellent Lug Radio Live USA videos (thanks!), particularly Aza Raskin on "Humane Computing", and Benjamin Mako Hill on "Revealing" errors, (here is the schedule of links to the talks), I'm a bit sensitive to this sort of thing.

Yeah, I know you get the same BS on legacy systems. But if we want people to adopt Our Favourite System, we have to be so much better that the benefits will outweigh the barriers to, and costs of, adoption.



Hi Benjamin,I find your post to be very interesting reading, because I am a Free software user and I also teach marketing. Please allow me to comment, from the perspective of one who tries to teach people how to be marketers, rather than one who actually does marketing.Marketing is a societal process … attempting to move the consumers toward the products or services offered.That quote is complete bullshit. It is a definition of the "Selling concept", which is what the "Marketing Concept" is entirely against. This is one example of why Wikipedia should not be used as a source of authority on contentious issues. Try Citizendium's take on this issue instead.I hate marketing. With a passion. The sentence above shows the 2 biggest problems I have with it. One is the word consumer, which often means “too stupid to make its own decisions”. The other is the fact that it doesn’t talk about the quality of the offer, but only about “moving towards”. The first sentence above might be expected to enrage me. In fact, I couldn't agree more with you if, in fact, "marketing" is what it says in the Wikipedia quote and article above. But it's not. At least, not the way we teach it at my place. And the "official" definition of Marketing, if there could be such a thing, is also at variance with the Wikipedia definition. It's from the AMA (American Marketing Association), and the latest version can be found here.Turns out, the people we trust have no clue either. That bug report is Debian wondering which Flash player to ship in the default install. Apparently the most important thing in deciding about it is wether Flash starts paused (changing that is a one-line diff) or the amount of people that have submitted code. Stuff like feature completeness or code quality don’t seem to be that important. Why should they be, those are hard questions, answering them is way easier than looking at statistics or the big play button in your browser. Another hard thing for people is realizing that one doesn’t have a clue and asking the developers of the respective projects for their opinion. It still baffles me that people don’t ask.Here's where we disagree. From a Marketing point of view, the opinions of the people who create the software don't matter. All that matters is the wants and needs of the consumers.Apparently in these cases marketing is very easy. Since the people don’t even have a clue what the right questions to ask are, marketers are free to make up their own questions to ask about the project and provide the answers. Then those people don't deserver to be called "Marketers". If they don't source their answers from consumers, they are not doing marketing.So you have one project that overpromises and another one that underpromises. Now if you browse discussions about Flash players on various mailing lists or forums, you’ll notice that Gnash is known way better. People are very more aware of an application that claims to almost support Flash than an application that claims it might not even work. On the other hand, the perception of Gnash is more negative. Gnash does not deliver its promises. Swfdec on the other hand promises nothing, so it’s likely it’ll be better than people expect, which makes them happy. Now, the question is: What’s the better approach? This is common wisdom in marketing circles: under-promise and over-deliver is a mantra we learn early on.Until then, it’ll probably remain nothing but an interesting thesis project for someone studying marketing.Probably not. We've known this for decades. It's just that some people don't pay attention in class ... :-)[...]



I find it highly ironic when people who claim to value freedom tell other people to shut up.

That is all.

Clueless Users


GNOME, and GNU/Linux, will forever be a niche desktop/OS until it is substantially better than Windows and OSX. Being free (either as in beer or freedom) is, evidently, not enough.

What is the road to such superiority? History has shown that technical superiority is no guarantee of market superiority. History has shown that marketing can help.

What is marketing? I have been thinking about that a lot lately. Here's a starter for 10:

Marketing can be encapsulated by a pair of principles. They are:

(1) Make good products / give good service / co-create good value; and
(2) Respect your customers (both current and potential)

That is all.

So, kudos to the Evolution team for including a way for customers to give feedback when they are having trouble (Help -> Report a problem). But simply punting that information to community forums or pointing to a FAQ is a waste of incredibly useful information. If someone asks a question with a known or "obvious" answer, you have a UI design problem. And usability is bug number 1 is most software these days.

But developer time is limited. Where should priorities lie? Adding more functionality or making simple things simple? Bling or ease of use? And why do I have to drop to a terminal and go "sudo chown me /dev/raw1394" in order to see video from my handycam? Every time?


In other news, thanks to all the Free software developers for making an OS and Desktop that is, in the main, at least as good as the major non-free alternatives. You guys and girls rock. Hard.

May all sentient beings achieve nirvana,


Counting GNOME and Linux Users


One of the impediments to the success of GNOME and Linux is the perception by hardware and software vendors and developers that there is no market for their products and services. Perhaps this is even the major impediment.

This is a classic chicken-and-egg situation. I experienced this with OS/2 in its heyday. Users don't want to use the OS because there are no apps, application developers don't want to write or port apps because there are no users. Same with hardware and drivers.

The problem with convincing vendors and developers that there is a market is that quantification of the market is characterised by very poor estimates. Simply, we cannot count sales and therefore there is no easy way to compare market share figures with Windows and Apple OSs.

There have been attempts to address this issue in the past. With respect to GNOME we have previously debated the issue, but it has now become dormant. Other projects, such as Linux Counter, have also tried, and failed.

The problem seems to devolve into two potential solutions:
  1. Some kind of "phone home" software, probably opt-in rather than on by default
  2. Encouraging people to visit a web site to "stand up and be counted"
The first has option is not so great in the sense that it would have to be approved by distros, who may not want it; and secondly they may want to keep (i.e. not share) the data.

The second option suffers from the problem of publicity. This is a classic e-commerce problem: it's no use having a great site/service if people don't know about it, and know how to find it.

Up until lately GNOME and the Linux community in general has not had the resources to mount an information campaign asking users to stand up and be counted. But now we do.

Google (and maybe others).

I would venture a guess that every internet-connected individual in the world would hit at least a few times per year. If we could convince them to (based on some detection system that could identify potential GNU/Linux or other Free OSs) offer a text ad pointing people to a counter, it would be problem solved as far as I can see.

The remaining problems would be purely technical (e.g. how to prevent "vote-stuffing", bots and so on).

I have no experience at dealing with global mega-corporations. Would it be best to develop the solution first (i.e. register a domain and set up the counting software) or just float the idea to them as-is?

By the way, seems to be available and is parked.

If you have thoughts on this issue, please leave a comment, or perhaps edit the GNOME "Counting Users" page.



Free Services


OK, I've been a huge fanboy of GNU/Linux and GNOME for about 10 years now, and during that time I have also been a hobbyist programmer. But I have finally realised that I will never have the mad skillz to contribute in any meaningful way to GNOME.

During that time I have also considered other ways to contribute, but I don't seem to have the time, motivation and energy to write quality documentation or provide friendly help to newbies on IRC. I work in a University and teach Marketing in general and Marketing Research in particular, so I joined the GNOME Marketing group, but I don't think I have been very helpful there either.

So now I am going to try something new.

Free Research Consulting and Data Analysis

I love research design and data analysis. I adore multivariate statistics. This stuff is recreational for me (as well as paying the bills). So, if you are planning to do some research and are unsure how to proceed, drop me a line. Or if you have some data and can't get your head around:
  • t tests
  • Chi-square tests
  • Multiple regression
  • Logistic regression
  • Factor analysis
  • Cluster analysis
  • Multidimensional scaling
  • Conjoint analysis
  • Choice modelling
  • Structural equation modelling
  • ...
Drop me a line. I'd love to contribute to GNOME in some meaningful way.



Implicit Associations


Dear lazyweb,

I have a need for software that implements the Implicit Association Test, but I can't find any Free software that fits the bill. So I suppose I will have to write it myself. I am looking for recommendations for which language to use. My criteria are these:

  1. I am an amateur coder. I have coded in C, C++, Perl, PHP, Java, Javascript and (ugh!) Visual Basic. I am willing to learn a new language for this project (thinking about Python). However my skillz are somewhat basic, and I have never written a GUI application, which this would have to be.
  2. The software needs to be cross-platform (GNU/Linux and Windows XP at least)
  3. The functionality I need is as follows: It should display images and text to the user, and record the response latency, i.e. the time between when (a) the image/text is displayed and (b) the user hits a specific key in response. Timing to the millisecond level is needed.
Any and all suggestions will be gratefully received.

Thanks in advance,


Enhancing the User Experience


Federico is the business. Why? Because he is working on removing some of the annoying things about interacting with computers. This projects excites me more than almost any other that I can think of right now.

That is all.



So, Elijah brings up an interesting point about GNOME (or Gnome) branding. I suppose I shouldn't really have opened that particular can of worms (the literal meaning of the acronym) in a post that was essentially about something different. But it is telling that most of the feedback I've had has been about this, rather than the whole "the Network is the Computer" idea.

It seems that anyone who has an opinion believes that we shouldn't take the meaning of GNOME literally. And many other people believe that because that is so, we shouldn't capitalize it, so it should be written Gnome.

I don't really care about these issues, except that from a branding perspective:

  • consistency really helps
  • if there is no compelling reason to call it Gnome, why do we call it Gnome?
This is not meant to be a troll. It has been said in the past that it's kind of a dumb name (because of the meaning of "gnome" in English), and that we could probably survive a name change without too much grief.

What would happen if we changed the name? All the people who currently use Gnome would either say "great" or bitch and moan. I doubt that current users and developers who would bitch and moan would then abandon Gnome because of a name change.

But all the people who do not use Gnome (or had never heard of it) would now have a (hopefully) more attractive and meaningful word/symbol to attach to this very abstract concept ("What is Gnome?").

What are your opinions on Gnome branding? When Gnome 3.0 is released, should we call it something else? What's wrong with Topaz? ;-)

The GNU Network Object Model Environment


I was initially attracted to GNOME because of the meaning of its acronym. Wouldn't it be great, I thought, if my "Desktop" was an interface to the network? This was around the time where I first heard the phrase "The Network is the Computer". I want to explain a bit more about that.The Network is the ComputerI don't know what was originally meant by this slogan, but I take it to be about distributed computing, rather than the client-server model. Note that this concept is not just about thin clients or mounting users' home directories over NFS. That is multi-user Unix, or client-server computing, and has existed for as long as Unix has. The "Network is the Computer" is something else entirely.Dude, Where's My Stuff?Distributed computing in this sense means that some of your apps and data are on the computer you happen to be interacting with at the moment, some are on some server somewhere (possibly belonging to a company or other organisation that you have some affiliation to; and possibly behind significant security barriers) and some are on (possibly many) other servers. Think of it like this:The Unix way: everything is a fileThe GNOME way: the Unix way, plus every file is on the network (everything is a "Network Object")I know that that's not the GNOME way now, but that's what I thought it was when I first heard about it, and that's what I still wish it could be in the future. My Stuff Follows Me AroundMany people interact with more than one computer, and many people spend significant time using that computer as an interface to the Internet. I suppose the largest number of people who do this use a computer at work or school and another at home. This leads to duplication of effort, and worse, duplication of data (and revisions of data), meaning that data synchronisation becomes important. The "network is the computer" is all about (insofar as is technically possible) device-independent access to my stuff. If you can run the GNOME on a device, it should (screen and input device limitations aside) look and act the same as on any other device. The same data and apps should (device limitations aside) be available. Google apps on mobile phones show some ways in which this can happen.The GNOME Online DesktopThere are a number of GNOME or projects underway that go some way to addressing the issues faced by the type of user described above. They incluConduit: file sychronisation and conversionTelepathy: abstract interface for messaging (not just IM)Mugshot: Keeping up to date with what your contacts are doing on the network. Also application usage statistics (and "Click to install" functionality of apps, across distributions)Galago: presence of people on the networkBig Board (in its current version) and/or Gimmie (in future versions?): GNOME GUI to the above functionalityThese are projects that seem related to what has been called the "GNOME Online Desktop", which seems to be not so much a focused effort but rather an emergent theme. Also, I am just learning about these projects, and may (actually, probably) have got the sound-bite descriptions of the projects wrong. If so, please correct me.The FutureWhere to from here? It seems to me that if the projects listed above reach maturity and are fully integrated with one another, then we be much closer to true "Network is the Computer" functionality and could probably call the resulting version of GNOME 3.0 (or ToPaZ?).What are your thoughts? In particular, are any of the pieces of the GOD missing? In particular, if you are a developer involved with one of the projects discussed above (or one that I've missed) would you be interested in participating in an interview (or helping write an article)[...]

Re-visioning GNOME


Recently Murray called for "more visions" for GNOME (in addition to "GNOME is People"). Well, I've got one.

GNOME is the GNU Network Object Model Environment. We have some really good network object features (e.g. the ability to browse remote directories using ssh:// URIs in Nautilus) but none that really set it apart from the other desktop environments. (As far as I know.)

What about making the GNOME environment more fully a network object? By this I mean that, no matter what physical machine you are running your GNOME session on, you have access to all your settings and configuration data?

Of course, this is trivial in the case of a managed/corporate environment where you mount your home directory over the network. But this relies on each GNOME-machine having access to an always-available server.

What about a user that has GNOME installed on several machines, but can never guarantee that any given machine will be powered up or network-visible at any given time? And what about bandwidth-constrained situations where exporting huge amounts of data over the network is impractical?

I suppose what I have in mind is something like this: All GNOME applications get their configuration and state data from a central source and cache it locally. The GNOME foundation supplies a network resource for people who do not have access to an always-on location for that data. Then when you get your shiny new hardware and install GNOME on it, all you need to do is type a URI for your configuration data and Evolution, Epiphany etc. are all set up automatically.

Obviously storage and synchronisation of actual application data (e.g. mail messages) is problematic, but we may have some application domain-specific solutions to this (e.g. IMAP for email).

I suppose I am kinda brainstorming here, but I'm so impressed by the available-anywhere-on-any-platform service that Google offers (mail, calendaring, word processing, spreadsheet, photo storage and management, general file storage, ...) that I can't help but think that we can do more in this regard.


Zarro Boogs?


I was reading just now, and a thought struck me. I know that for some people (particularly admins) the six-monthly release cycle of GNOME is too frequent. They have just managed to iron out the issues with the last release when the next one comes along. How about devoting every second "release" to bug fixing and documentation?

Imagine what six months of bug-report and patch reviewing (and, of course, bug-fixing) would do for the quality of GNOME. Think TeX.

Remember kids: users don't really want features. They just want their software to work. (If you really must implement a new feature, please consider doing so by a plugin framework rather than monolithic releases.)

Thoughts, anyone?

Why OLPC is great for Free Software


It may seem to you that the OLPC project is all about kids in the third world, and does not have much relevance to affluent middle class first-world tech workers.

I think differently to this, and here's why.
  1. It's not just for the "third world".

  2. Even in the affluent societies of the "first world" there are plenty of poor people. Most people who have thought about social equity and justice have come to the conclusion that the way to help people who are blighted by generational low income is through education. The problem with this is that education costs money. Access to information is expensive. The OLPC project, combined with the power of the Internet, drastically reduces this cost.

  3. It will produce a generation of free software users.

  4. If OLPC machines are widespread in society, in five or ten years, a significant proportion of the people entering the workforce will be used to Free Software, and the whole ethos of cooperation and sharing in the software world. Using proprietary, closed software will seem, simply, weird to these people.

  5. Development of software for resource-constrained devices is good for everyone.

  6. I work at a university in New Zealand. I own my own house and car. I have a big TV and stereo, I eat out a lot, ... in short: I am not poor. But I can't see the value in buying a new computer every year (or every three years). Neither can I see the value in investing in ASDL for $50 a month when I can have dial-up for $7 a month. So my home computer is old and slow (2.4GHz Athlon with 1GB Ram) and my Internet connection is slow. I can tell you that using GNOME software is a pain in the ass with such a setup. (Compared to using a one-year-old laptop at work with a high-speed connection.)

    I am looking forward to the technologies that have been developed to slow, low memory, slow-and-intermittent network connected devices filtering down to the main GNU/Linux and GNOME stack. I think that this would help a significant proportion of GNOME users, i.e. those who don't have the luxury of modern setups.
I wonder if we will ever be able to buy a OLPC machine for our five-year-old children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews for Christmas? If you want to spread the Free Software message, I can't think of a more effective tactic.

A Strategy for GNOME?


So, with the upcoming release of GNOME 2.16, I started thinking about GNOME 2.18 (logical, no?). I looked on for information, but there was none (on 2.18 or 2.17) that I could find.

In desperation, I turned to all items on l.g.o that belong to "Category Roadmap". I have to say, if anyone wants to plan a journey using that map, you had better have plenty of supplies, because you are bound to get lost along the way ;-)

In even greater desperation, I started thinking about plans for the future of GNOME. Now, while I feel the force of arguments along the lines of "evolutionary change versus planned change", I can't help but think that it would be nice to know what the (random, naturally selected) change is for. It seems clear that GNOME aims for more than mere survival; but if our goal is more than survival, then what is it?

So I created in the hope that people who really know what's going on can share it with the rest of us, so we can help. (I was going to call it Goals, but I thought that would be too similar to and would cause confusion.)

If you have any views on the goals that GNOME has, or should have, and how to achieve them, please visit and edit that page.



Performance and Flow


I was not at GUADEC, but thanks to the miracle of the InterWeb, I managed to see Federico's slides on his (wonderful!) GNOME performance work. However one statement intrigued me. "Slow performance breaks the flow (see Kathy Sierra's talk)."

Well, for me, the number one and two interruptions of my flow (and I suspect the flow of many others) is (1) application crashes; and (2) UIs that block on I/O. If we are really serious about making GNOME a viable Desktop Environment, I would like to see these as the next two GNOME goals.

That is all.

P.S. Thanks for your great work Federico :-)

Getting off my Lazy Arse


Dear Lazyweb:

Previously I have blogged about the woeful state of many GNOME applications with respect to UIs that block on I/O. It seems that no-one (who matters) really gives a shit about the agony of those of us with 57k modem connections, so I have decided to try to attack this problem myself.

But I don't know where to start! I have never written a GNOME application, or a single line of Python code. (It seems that many of the apps that I that have this problem are written in Python. Coincidence?) So if I want to fix yumex, pup, pirut, gaim etc. so that they don't become unresponsive (and don't repaint their window) while waiting for the network, do I look at/learn about:

  1. Python
  2. PyGTK
  3. GMainLoop
  4. Something else
  5. All of the above


I am not a student, and am not eligible for Summer of Code funding (plus there is a reasonable probability that I will fail in my mission ...), but any mentoring would be greatly appreciated.

Luv ya,


Meaningless Error Messages


Well, another thing about GNOME that's kinda sucky. I want to use a particular message as an example, but I don't want to be interpreted as picking on the author of that software. (Otherwise I would simply file a bug report.)

Consider this. Everytime my machine boots, or I log out (which only happens when GNOME or X crashes), I get the following message from GDM:

"The configuration file is not correct. Please fix the incorrect line and try again"

How is this supposed to help anyone? It might help someone who knows about the workings of GDM, but everyone else confronted with this message will have to embark on a voyage of discovery that may well take several days.

To be specific: Which configuration file? What is it called? Where is it? Which line is incorrect? How do I find out what the correct value(s) should be?

I reiterate: I don't want to bash GDM here. I'm sure many of you could think of similar examples from other software.

GNOME 2.16: Polish, Polish, Polish


The feedback on my blog after my last post seems to make it clear that there is some support for the theme/direction/goal of the next release of GNOME to be something along the lines of:

  • Reduce memory usage
  • increase speed
  • pay attention to (i.e. fix) the most reported user-visible bugs
  • resolve crasher bugs

In other words, we pretty much have the feature-set we need, now we need to concentrate on making the Desktop Environment not get in the way of users as they go about their work or play. Of course, the boundary between DE and application suite is somewhat hazy in many people's minds (not least my own!).

What is the feeling in the developer community toward this goal? The comments I am getting seem to be from people who characteris themselves as users, although I am sure that some of them are developers also. I would really like to here from people about this.

P.S. Some people have been asking for a more permanent list of the points that I have been raising in these posts. That will be Coming Soon. ;-)

Where to from here?


I am continually amazed at the number of positive comments I get on my blog articles: it seems that I am not alone in some of my thoughts! That is always reassuring :-)

The things that I have been blogging about, the comments that I have been receiving, and the recent controversy on the desktop development list (sparked by discussion of the recent showcasing of Novell Linux Desktop) have all started me thinking about this:

Has GNOME lost its way?

By "GNOME" I mean the GNOME "community" as well as the bunch of zeroes and ones that are currently chugging through my computer's CPU. I do not mean to imply that things are bad, it just seems to me that we seem to be somewhat aimless and fragmented. I am not suggesting that we need a benevolent dictator like Linus Torvalds or Larry Wall, or that we need more structure or formalism. (It may be that we do, but I remain to be convinced on that score.)

What I am am suggesting is that we need to articulate our shared values and goals a bit more explicitly. (I think the place for this is the eagerly anticipated but oft-delayed new site.) In particular, we need a longer term plan that just the next six months (the next realease) and more concrete than the mythical Three Point Zero.

Can we start to think about 2.16, 2.18, 2.20 and 2.22 and publish these plans on Can we nail down a few things we want to achieve in the next two years and track our progress toward them? I think that this would help unify us and give us a common goal much more than anything I see in public channels right now.

Thoughts about GNOME 2.16


Now that GNOME 2.14 is almost out I would like to propose an overarching goal for GNOME 2.16. Codenames that reflect this goal are:GNOME 2.16: No New Features.orGNOME 2.16: Polish, polish, polish.Yes, you heard me. I would like to see six months of GNOME development love going in to fixing bugs and improving the GNOME infrastructure in terms of documentation and web sites. I know that would be boring for many of you, but please: think of the children! Ooops, I mean users.By "Bug Fixing" I mean not only clearing things out of bugzilla, but also attending to the things that are often talked about as being in need of improvement. I am willing to help where I can. Please bear in mind that I am not a developer, but apart from that, feel free to approach me with tasks. I don't want to be just a complainer ;-)I was impressed by a comment made at in Dunedin recently. Someone mentioned the how the policy in New York City of "Zero Tolerance" to crime worked so well. Apparently the story is that if even the smallest of crimes (like littering and jaywalking) are not tolerated, there is a corresponding fall in the crime rate for the more major crimes. The reasoning behind this is (IIRC) explained in the book "The Tipping Point".) Please, if I'm getting these details wrong, let me know.)I am reminded of the situation with TeX, and also LaTeX: there are practically no bugs in these packages. We can argue about why this is, or whether it is possible for GNOME to emulate the acheivements of Donald Knuth, but the point remains that bug-free software is possible, and that feeping creaturism must be resisted. I, and almost all of my normal user buddies, HATE new features almost as much as we hate bugs. (OK, that's an exaggeration.) But honestly, whenever we hear that our versions of Windows, Office or whatever is going to be upgraded, we groan. Because amongst all the new features there is almost never anything actually useful, and all we get are new bugs. Often we have to learn new ways of doing things that don't seem any better than the existing ways. And most of the old bugs don't go away either. The "upgrade" cycle seems to be driven by the IT department needing new central management functionality rather than the actual users demanding new features.Adding new features to software is largely driven by commercial imperatives, where common business wisdom goes along the lines of "constant innovation is not just the key for success, but a necessity for survival". We in the GNOME community do not have these imperatives.Adding features is necessary (as opposed to fun) only when we have a desire to produce a system that is a replacement for other systems. (Getting people to start using GNOME in place of something else.) In that case it is necessary to match a large subset, but by no means all, of the system that you are trying to replace. If we are talking GNOME and GNU/Linux versus Windows XP and Mac OS X, there are a few major areas to achieve parity:1. Multimedia handling2. Printing3. Laptop supportWouldn't it be great if you could buy a new laptop, pop a CD of the latest version of you favourite distro in the drive and install the sucker with no more hassle than if you were trying to install one of the other systems? (Note I am not saying "with no hassle"!)And then, imagine you could use your laptop without feeling like a second class citizen in the computing world, because your syste[...]

The Last thing about GNOME that Sucks


I will keep this short: Applications that don't handle intermittent network connectivity well. (That would be pretty much all of them, in my experience.) The software that bites me with this problem almost every day are Evolution (specifically evolution-exchange-storage) and Gaim. I'm sure there are others though.

Right, that's it! There are no more things about GNOME that Suck (in my not-so-humble opinion). Remember, this was about GNOME as a desktop environment, from a user's point of view. Your opinions may (and almost certainly do) differ from mine, so if you feel strongly about these issues, blog about them!