GNOME in 2008 - Highlights from the GNOME year

The GNOME community has been working throughout 2008 to continue its efforts towards offering the best desktop and the best platform to develop applications, always keeping in mind that the user is important, and that the project should be fun!

Offering the Latest Technologies

It has become a ritual over the years: in March and September of each year, a new stable branch of GNOME is released on the day according to the pre-established schedule. This allows users to have access to the latest features and bug fixes very quickly, developers to start using new libraries and technologies as soon as they appear promising, and distributors to rely on a known schedule that they know will be respected.

GNOME 2.22 offered important improvements in all parts of the stack. Users could enjoy Cheese, a new application to take photos or make videos using webcams, and apply fun effects on those photos and videos. Metacity, the GNOME window manager, also introduced a window compositing mode on capable platforms, which improves the user experience with drop shadows, live previews of windows or real transparency. The Anjuta IDE finally became part of the Developer Tools, successfully filling a gap. And last but not least, GNOME 2.22 introduces GIO and GVFS for networked filesystems: this came as a replacement to GNOME-VFS, which was known to have several shortcomings. One of the most visible feature introduced by GVFS is a FUSE mountpoint that lets all applications access the remote files, even if the applications are not aware of GVFS.

After 2.22, the community worked hard for six months to offer to the users GNOME 2.24 in September. This release is the first one to include the GNOME Mobile development platform as an official release set. GNOME Mobile brings standard desktop components together to provide a core platform on which distributors and handheld manufacturers can build rich programming environments; it is at the heart of various mobile device platforms, including Maemo, the ACCESS Linux Platform, the LiMo reference platform, and Moblin. The 2.24 Desktop also offered numerous new features and changes, especially in the communication area: the Empathy instant messenger was included, which is the first step to a properly integrated instant messenging experience. The new version of Ekiga, the SIP audio/video conference client, was a major step forward, with a new interface, support for SIP presence and better video codecs support. Many other areas were also improved to help the user in his daily life; a good example of this is better support for connecting an external screen to the computer (e.g. a projector for giving presentations).

Of course, during the year, the GNOME stack evolved and different tasks clearly appeared. Many contributors pushed to clean up the usage of old libraries, and many applications were therefore ported away from GNOME-VFS, libgnome, libgnomeui, etc. The future of GTK+ was discussed and a roadmap towards GTK+ 3.0 was prepared, the goal being to clean the library and prepare the way to new features that will make GTK+ even more attractive. GNOME 3.0 was also discussed and the release team has started working on a concrete plan to lead the project to a new major milestone.

New technologies developed around GNOME also started getting some traction, like PolicyKit. Its purpose is to provide a consistent way for applications to gain extra privileges; a good example of its usage is its integration in the clock applet to enable the user to easily change the current timezone, or the current date and time. The PulseAudio sound server also started being integrated in GNOME, which will make several new features possible.

Infrastructure Behind the Project

With hundreds of modules hosted by the GNOME project, the GNOME infrastructure can certainly be considered a critical piece in the workflow of our contributors. It's therefore logical to see it change over time and be adapted to the various needs.

The GNOME instance of bugzilla has had difficult times with some load issues and has been running an old version of the software. But there are now plans to start a migration to the latest version, and the sysadmins are keeping in mind the load issues as they think about how to improve our bug tracking system.

The Build Brigade worked hard on making continuous builds of GNOME a reality. Thanks to jhbuild integration and to the help of volunteers to set up a few clients, contributors can easily check what is broken in svn trunk.

One of the most debated topic during 2008 certainly was the use of a DVCS (distributed version control system). It was covered in many threads and IRC discussions, but also during GUADEC and other events. John Carr worked on providing a complete mirror of the GNOME modules via bzr and git, and therefore people were able to actually test two of the main contenders and use them for their daily work. Behdad Esfahbod closed the year by organizing a survey about DVCS, in order to have some real data to analyze and to help the community decide the path forward.

Finally, translators were offered a gift at the very end of the year by Stéphane Raimbault and Claude Paroz, with the merge of damned-lies and vertimus. The former was already deployed by GNOME and generates statistics for all languages, helping track the status of translations and the string changes. Vertimus is a tool that was originally developed by the french translation team to improve the workflow inside a translation team: it enables contributors to know who is working on what, and what is the status of a proposed update to a translation. There are already plans to offer a web interface to commit the translations, which would make it possible to contribute translations without having to know about a version control system.

Actions in the Accessibility World

The accessibility of GNOME is one aspect many contributors are very proud of. It also helps, with our work on usability and localization, to make the software we create truly usable by anyone.

Much work was done on the technical side. Among other examples, close cooperation with Mozilla has led to excellent accessibility support in Firefox 3 with the Orca screenreader. A vast number of applications also saw their support improved in a similar fashion. New support for mouse accessibility was introduced, adding various features like the ability to open the contextual menu with only one mouse button, or the ability to perform different types of clicks (e.g. single click, double click, context click, and dragging) without using a mouse button.

Work on a new version of AT-SPI, which is an essential part of the accessibility stack, has also begun, the goal being to replace the use of CORBA and to move to D-Bus instead. This is consistent with the GNOME-wide goal to move away from CORBA to D-Bus, and to use only one inter-process communication mechanism.

And last but not least, the GNOME Foundation organised the "GNOME Outreach Program: Accessibility", with the help of the Mozilla Foundation, Canonical, Google and Novell. This program aimed to increase the awareness of the accessibility-related issues, especially in the context of computer applications, to encourage people to work on them and to improve the accessibility support in free software. Various tasks were proposed to participants, including a revamp of the accessibility-related documentation and the development of an accessibility testing strategy. Smaller tasks were also made available, like fixing minor accessibility bugs or providing new icons for accessibility themes. A new application called MouseTrap was created as part of this program and shows promising results: it enables mouse control, via head movements captured by a webcam.

Thanks to the hard work of the accessibility community, the GNOME project won a Lutèce d'Or prize during Paris Capitale du Libre: "GNOME Outreach Program: Accessibility" was awarded the best community-driven effort of the year!

GNOME at Events

There was so much energy in the project in 2008 that there were more events than the previous years, especially thanks to the efforts to organize hackfests.

Four hackfests indeed occurred during the year. First, in March, around 30 hackers converged to Berlin (Germany) to participate in the first GTK+ hackfest. Sponsored by many companies, this hackfest was critical in having the right people meet to discuss the future of GTK+ and prepare the road towards GTK+ 3.0. A few months later, in September, a group of similar size also met in Berlin for a Desktop Search hackfest, to try to make this tricky area move forward. In October, around 20 people went to Boston (MA, USA) one week before the Boston Summit to think about the future of user experience in GNOME. This resulted in two main proposals: a new GNOME shell revisiting the panel and the window management, and a complete overhaul of the document management on the desktop. Finally, in November, a handful of cairo hackers went to Bolzano (Italy) to work together on the cairo library.

FOSDEM is generally one of the first important conferences in the year for the GNOME community, and it was still true in 2008: with a booth animated by many volunteers and a devroom with technical talks, the GNOME community could not be ignored at FOSDEM in February. The GNOME t-shirt for this FOSDEM also introduced the now famous GNOME equation, with much success: it was quite common to meet people with this green t-shirt during the event. The project had therefore a highly visible presence in Brussels (Belgium), and the success of the first GNOME Beer Event that attracted people from other communities confirmed this.

July saw several hundreds of GNOME contributors go to Istanbul (Turkey) to attend GUADEC, the annual GNOME conference. This event is always a place of celebration for the community, with many friends being able to at last see each other again or live music from a band made of GNOME contributors; but it's also a time in the year where a huge amount of work is realized in relatively little time: talks inspire contributors, decisions can be made much faster, and people are writing down many plans for the next months of development. GUADEC is also where, each year, one person gets recognized for his contributions to the project with the GNOME Pants award: This year, Olav Vitters was chosen for this prize, because of his numerous contributions on bugzilla, in the release team and also in the infrastructure team. Finally, the release team proposed an initial plan for GNOME 3, creating some excitement within the community.

The traditional Boston Summit was held in the MIT in Cambridge (MA, USA) in the middle of October. Many technical topics were discussed, with many people interested in GObject introspection and accessibility, for example. The ideas developed during the user experience hackfest the week before were also presented. The social event was also a good occasion for the contributors to play pool. Or for some, to learn how to play!

2008 was also the first year of a new event, GNOME.Asia, which was organized at the end of October in Beijing (China). The community had long seen that there were not enough important GNOME events in Asia, and a team of people decided to step up to change this. The conference was organized with the help of the Foundation, but also of various industry leaders. It succeeded in bringing together GNOME users and developers, and a large set of topics were debated, ranging from very technical ones (input methods, for example) to topics accessible to newcomers (introductions to various technologies). Everyone had in mind the will to improve the GNOME community in Asia, and make it even more active than it currently is. And to make sure that there couldn't be any doubt about the quality of this event, a tour trip to the Great Wall was organized.

The local groups also participated in a vast number of other events, but also went on to organize some events themselves like Involucrate+GNOME (Lima, Perú), Fórum GNOME (Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil) and Día GNOME (Valparaiso, Chile).

Teams in Movement

The GNOME community is always moving, with newcomers joining, contributors leaving to focus on other priorities, old friends coming back. This continuous movement is a good sign that the project is alive and well.

The biggest highlight in this area is probably the fact that Stormy Peters joined the GNOME Foundation as Executive Director in July, at the very beginning of GUADEC. Stormy has already brought a lot of energy to the Foundation and is working hard at building stronger links with the industry, as well as helping the GNOME community to achieve its vision.

The Advisory Board of the GNOME Foundation continued to attract new members, with Mozilla Foundation arriving at the very beginning of the year, followed by Google, Motorola and Sugar Labs. Those new members represent well the diversity of the Advisory Board, composed of both non-profit organizations who share a philosophy and goals, and industry key players.

A vote in 2007 approved the decision that the next Foundation Board would be elected for 18 months to have the following board be able to meet quickly after being elected at GUADEC. Hence, no elections were held in 2008. But in December, Jeff Waugh decided to focus his time on other projects and Diego Escalante Urrelo has been appointed to the empty seat: Diego was a candidate in the elections in 2007, and his energy and dedication made him an obvious choice.

The release team itself saw quite some changes, with former release manager Elijah Newren stepping down from the team and being replaced by Lucas Rocha. A few months later, Matthias Clasen of GTK+ fame filled the empty spot left by the departing John Palmieri. And in November, since everybody was impressed by his continuous dedication of tracking latest dependencies and build failures, Frédéric Péters was logically invited to be the latest member.

Finally, a GNOME Mobile stewardship team was announced by the Foundation Board. Composed of Paul Cooper, Dave Neary and Stormy Peters, the team aims to facilitate the creation of a strategy around GNOME Mobile and to work on communication for this part of the GNOME project.

Reaching Out to New People

Thanks to Google, GNOME could participate again in the Google Summer of Code. This made it possible for 30 students to work with the GNOME community, and lead to various successful projects: the Anjuta IDE gained new features (like a git plugin, and better integration with glade) and the F-Spot user interface got improved, for example. GNOME also sponsored a project for Avahi, the widely used project to handle service discovery on local networks.

GNOME also participated in a similar program targetted at high school students, the Google Highly Open Participation Contest, where students were able to start contribution on all areas of GNOME, from bug fixing, to translations and documentation. This was the first edition of this contest, and it was a good opportunity to have young students learn about free software in general, and GNOME in our case, and to have them start being involved. Some of the participants are still in the community today!

Getting new contributors to participate in GNOME is of course important, but the project was also blessed with many new users thanks to the emerging netbook market. Several companies are indeed offering GNU/Linux-based preloads that are using GNOME as the user interface. This is certainly a big success for the project as it's a recognition of the hard work done by the community on the code, on usability, on accessibility, on translations, on documentation, and in all the other areas!

FoundationBoard/AnnualReport2008/GnomeIn2008 (last edited 2009-03-11 22:56:58 by LucasRocha)