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

By Jack M. Germain
Jun 25, 2010 5:00 AM PT

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

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

The label "GNU" is a recursive acronym meaning GNU's Not Unix, according to 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 comprised of a board of directors, the executive director and the members consisting of supporting vendors and individuals.

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

In case you were wondering, GNOME is pronounced with a "G" sounded like the word "gun." Say it as a one-syllable word with no vowel sound between the g and the n.

Perhaps as a sign of the Foundation's continuing success with growing the adoption of the GNOME desktop, the organization is seeking its first system administrator. Foundation officials also began in 2009 cohosting summits for developers with the KDE (K Desktop Environment).

LinuxInsider met recently with GNOME Foundation Executive Director Stormy 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 between the user and the Linux operating system. So when you are using Linux GNOME, it is the windows, the dialog boxes, where the close goes. It includes the applications you run.

LIN: When you're using other desktops like KDE, are they subsets of Gnome?

Peters: KDE is probably the biggest competing interface to GNOME. Most distros use one or the other. A few like Canonical offer options 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 the free software service. Our mission is to provide users with a free desktop. We are all people working on that. We've not after competing with 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 run KDE applications on GNOME. There is nothing to keep you from doing that. Sometimes you have to also install other apps and or missing libraries from the other desktop environment to make them all to work.

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

Peters: We do have different cultures of philosophies, so we think something different is better for our end users. We will probably always be different from each other. But wherever we can cooperate, that just furthers our mission. Sometimes we each have competing applications. For instance, we have Gnumeric as a spreadsheet, and KDE has a different one.

LIN: What is the mission behind the GNOME Foundation?

Peters: Our goal, maybe more so than developers of proprietary desktops and other Linux desktops, is to make sure that our desktop is accessible to everybody. That may mean if you don't want to pay for it, it's free. If you speak some other language, we have it translated into something like 80 languages. If you have a disability, we want to make sure that you can still use it. So we have things like screen readers and online keyboards. The human interface guidelines are to make it as easy for people to use. So we think the guidelines make it easier 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 to cooperate in our common goal of providing a free desktop. So wherever we can agree to use common technology or work on the same thing, we want to do that.

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

Peters: The one big block to adoption from my perspective is a marketing one. I don't think there is anything holding us back in terms of functionality. It's just that a lot more people have heard about [Microsoft] Windows so they continue to use it because they know it. When I tell my friends who should know what I'm doing here about GNOME 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 several thousand people contributing to it. We have an infrastructure and accounts to maintain and things that keep the project going. Right now we rely on a team of volunteers to do all of the work. And they are awesome. So we think that hiring an administrator to start out part-time would free up our volunteers to spend more time writing code, for example. We haven't hired an administrator yet, but we are looking 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 board members. We have a number of companies that fund GNOME and are committed to giving us a certain amount of money per year. They also tend to give us more money for certain purposes. They've committed to a set amount that we can count on for salaries. We also have done specific fund raising to help generate funds for an administrator. We got quite a bit of money from individuals as well as companies.

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

Peters: I think it's gaining a huge amount of acceptance and traction in the workplace. I think that most companies have some degree of free software in use within their IT structure. It hasn't gotten that same level of use with the end user. I think where it's going now would be sort of the online Web, college user. We have a free software stack for most business services. We don't have a free software stack for all online services.

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

Peters: No, I don't think it is hindering people. People can still use GNOME and Linux and all those nonfree Web services. But we just want to make sure that users have their freedoms of choice. So GNOME is starting to develop some of those online services. They will be free in the sense of not free but having freedom to choose. There's nothing stopping you from using Flickr with Linux. In fact, it's probably better integrated into GNOME than a proprietary desktop.

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

Peters I think that might be a way to go. Especially now that Facebook is getting a whole bunch of negative publicity over security concerns. It presents an opportunity to show end users how GNOME takes care of the user.

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

Peters: People believe that software should be free. In the last year it has gone mainstream as people realize that FOSS (Free Open Source Software) is easier and more cost effective.

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