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Leading items and editorials

GNOME goes for world domination. If any one group could be said to have dominated the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo this time around, it would have [GNOME] to be the GNOME project. We'll start with an overview of what has been announced, then get into some thoughts of what the implications are.

  • A group called the GNOME Foundation has been formed (press release). The purpose of this foundation is to oversee the overall development of GNOME, decide which technologies get included, and to keep any one company from dominating the development of the system. It will provide "financial and legal" help to the project, and do release coordination. It will also handle the project's PR.

    The Foundation will have a board of directors elected by the GNOME developers. A number of companies and organizations have announced support; they include Compaq, Eazel, the Free Software Foundation, Gnumatic, Helix Code, Henzai, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Object Management Group, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems, TurboLinux and VA Linux. There is also to be an advisory committee populated with people from that same list of companies.

    No people have been named in the Foundation thus far, and it appears to have no web site. One assumes they will get around to those details once the show is over.

  • Sun Microsystems, not content with joining the GNOME Foundation, has also announced that GNOME 2.0 will be the desktop for the Solaris system, replacing CDE. Sun will be assigning 50 engineers to work on GNOME. As of this writing, Sun's web page features GNOME prominently.

  • HP is planning a shift to GNOME on its desktop, though there is no announcement from the company to that effect.

  • IBM will be shipping laptops with Helix GNOME. Much of the publicity this week made a smaller deal of the fact that KDE, too, is available from IBM on the same laptops.

  • TurboLinux has announced a working version of Helix GNOME on the IA-64 architecture.

  • GNOME put out a separate press release detailing its plans for World Domination. It covers the previously-announced integration of the GPL version of StarOffice into GNOME, and claims that Mozilla will be so integrated as well.

In a way, the most interesting part is that last press release. Nobody can accuse the GNOME folks of being insufficiently ambitious; according to the release they plan to "establish the GNOME user environment as the unifying desktop for the Linux and UNIX communities," as well as working toward "establishment of the GNOME framework as the standard for next-generation Internet access devices."

Those are big goals. And with the sort of support that GNOME is drumming up, there is a possibility that those goals could even be achievable. The addition of StarOffice and Mozilla - if it can be made to work well - will also help. If GNOME achieves its goals, it will have a fundamental role in assuring the long-term success of Linux as a whole.

Of course, there are a few little obstacles to overcome. The easiest will be CDE and Motif, which can probably be considered dead as of this announcement. The recent Open Motif effort is far too little, far too late. GNOME has surpassed it, and the Unix vendors are abandoning it.

But then, there is the matter of KDE. ZDNet has already written an obituary for KDE in an article entitled Hello GNOME, Adios KDE: "In the end, one side had to win. And in this zero-sum game, that meant the other side had to come up empty." Let us ignore the fundamental misunderstanding of free software betrayed by calling it a "zero-sum game;" the important question is: is KDE doomed?

The KDE project has done a more than credible job of creating a top-quality desktop environment that is arguably still ahead of GNOME. KDE has a large and committed development community, and is rapidly heading toward a long-awaited 2.0 release. One can probably assume that the KDE team isn't ready to just give up. It is also worth noting that the distributors most closely associated with KDE - such as Caldera, Corel, MandrakeSoft and SuSE - are not a part of the GNOME Foundation.

We asked KDE spokesperson Robert Williams what he thought of the matter; here's what he said:

We feel that we have a superior product than GNOME, and that people will see this when KDE 2.0 released. The press GNOME is getting will make us re-double our development and our PR efforts. In fact we do not have much of a PR presence, we prefer to rely on our technology. But that is going to have to change. GNOME is getting a lot of backing and we have to speak up. We plan on getting KDE out there more in the press. We will let GNOME have their week, but the war is not over :-) I will tell all of our millions of users out there, that KDE is here to stay!

(Also see LWN's conversation with KDE hacker Kurt Granroth on this subject).

The free software world is certainly richer for having two approaches to desktop software to choose from; better cooperation between the projects might be nice, but it's not necessarily a good thing for one of them to "unify" everybody's desktop in the near future.

GNOME may not take over quite as quickly as it might hope. But these developments are good news; Linux has just gotten stronger. World Domination is that much closer.

(See also: "we're joining" press releases from Eazel, Red Hat, Sun, and the Object Management Group; this transcript of the press conference by Raph Levien; and Sun's home page which, as of this writing, features GNOME prominently).

LinuxWorld. The LinuxWorld Conference and Expo is still going on as your increasingly frazzled editors write this. You will find coverage of [Tux + Daemons] LinuxWorld events and announcements throughout this week's LWN. So we'll limit ourselves to one observation in this space.

The most important thing that has come out of the fourth LinuxWorld may well be that it has served notice to the world as a whole that Linux is alive, well, and getting stronger. The end of the weirdness in the stock market was in no way indicative of the demise of Linux. It will likely seem strange to most readers of this publication, but an awful lot of people seemed to think that, once the ridiculous stock prices went away, Linux's hour had passed. Much of the coverage in the mainstream press served to reinforce this perception. Linux was a passing fad.

Everything about this conference, from its long sold-out exhibit space to the incredible pile of commercial announcements, has told the wider world in a language it understands that Linux and free software are here to stay. The Linux stock shakeout did not even slightly slow their momentum. After all, free software never had anything to do with stock prices. Free software is about freedom. And the advantages of freedom are compelling. Free software is the future, and LinuxWorld is helping to make that clear.

LWN's coverage from the conference so far includes a report from Michael Dell's keynote, and a summary of the Debian press conference. More to come.

Linux-based palmtops are here. A few announcements at LinuxWorld have made it clear that the days of running proprietary operating systems on handheld systems are almost over. Here's a quick look at what's up.

[Pocketlinux] Transvirtual has long (by Linux standards) been known for its "clean room" Java implementation Kaffe. The Kaffe system has been pitched for use in embedded systems for a while, so it is not that much of a stretch for Transvirtual to get into handheld systems. That they did in a big way this week, with the announcement of the "PocketLinux Framework," complete with a companion web site at PocketLinux.com.

PocketLinux starts with a 2.4 kernel which has been "reengineered" for small devices. Added onto that is, of course, a version of Kaffe; Transvirtual sees Java as a way of writing code which is portable across a wide variety of handheld systems. Throw in heavy use of XML to "represent all data in the system," and there should be enough buzzwords here to satisfy just about anybody. There are also nifty tools (such as a synchronization utility) and the obligatory theme support.

PocketLinux is currently running on two systems: Compaq's iPAQ and VTech's Helio. VTech has announced that it will be supporting PocketLinux directly. Compaq has been more quiet, but the rumor mill says that helped support the development of PocketLinux on the iPAQ.

None of the PR says anything about which distribution is used in PocketLinux. However, the Debian logo on the PocketLinux site and Jim Pick's presence at Transvirtual provide some fairly strong hints. PocketLinux is licensed under the GPL, and it can be downloaded from this page.

Meanwhile, Agenda Computing has announced a Linux-based PDA of its own. The "Agenda VR3" comes in three variants, with the entry system going for $149. A good look at the Agenda system can be found in this LinuxDevices.com article; author Rick Lehrbaum wants one...

Inside this week's Linux Weekly News:

  • Security: ActiveState releases PerlMX; ssh license change.
  • Kernel: vger dies; multistream files - again
  • Distributions: Debian 2.2
  • Development: Releases of sketch, QTCUPS; LI18NUX2000 Globalization Specification
  • Commerce: VA Linux Systems, HA & Clustering.
  • Back page: Linux links, this week in Linux history, and letters to the editor
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

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August 17, 2000


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