Portrait of Edd Dumbill, taken by Giles Turnbull

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Sticking with it -- GNOME

I'm a technology loner. If it's obscure, even painful, to be doing, I'm probably doing it. I run Linux on my iBook. I encode my CDs to Ogg Vorbis. I have a PGP key and actually do keysigning the proper way.

It's not clear to me whether I'm doing this deliberately or not. I certainly find myself believing in a lot of the causes I support.

All of which leads me to the point of this post. It's the first in an occasional series in which I'll talk about a technology that some people viewed as oddball, but one which I've stuck with, and reaped rewards.

Because the memory of the GNOME Users and Developers' Conference is still strong in my mind, I'll start with GNOME.

GNOME is an open source desktop environment for Unix machines. Most popularly, it's available for Linux, FreeBSD and Solaris. I got started with GNOME in late 1998 when GNOME 1.0 was in beta. It supplanted GNUStep as my Linux desktop environment.

Thumbnail of my desktop Since that time, GNOME has come a long way. One of its most surprising aspects is that in going from 1.0 to 2.0 it reinvented itself in a way that is comparable in its radicalness to the Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X jump, both in terms of user interface and internal structure. Indeed, before OS X came on the scene, it looked for a while like GNOME might really steal the cool kids away from the Mac.

Along the way, we've picked up some high class applications. The star of the show for me is Ximian Evolution, which is an excellent email and personal information management client. The Galeon and Epiphany web browsers have worked hard to show the benefits of a native look and feel to web browsing.

The focus on usability and accessibility in the 2.x series of GNOME releases has reaped great rewards. Font handling is finally on a par with any modern operating system, if not better. Application support now meets the most common needs of home and business users. GNOME's now in a state where it can challenge Windows or Mac OS. It certainly has less legacy baggage to carry around than Windows, which gives it greater agility when the time comes to innovate.

The key challenge for the GNOME platform is whether it can make the jump into originality. It doesn't have to be a radical departure -- after all, nothing in Mac OS X is truly new -- but it has to be one step ahead.

I'm personally attempting to contribute to that aim, and many others are too. For me, it's a way of giving back for the years of good service I've had from the GNOME desktop environment. Sometimes I wonder whether I should maybe just use Mac OS X instead, but for now I'm doing as I've done for the last four years, sticking with GNOME.

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