Over the past couple of decades, when the GTK library that GNOME was built upon released a new major version -- moving from 1.x versions to 2.x, for instance -- it arrived with a new major release of the GNOME desktop that greatly changed the user interface.
As with many major redesigns, it was accompanied by an amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth.
With the GTK team working away on GTK 4, the GNOME team was in no mood to "rewrite the world", according to an announcement from the GNOME release team penned by Emmanuele Bassi.
"With GTK 4.0 being released during the next development cycle, calling the next version of GNOME '4.0' would have unfortunate/unintended implications about the platform, especially from an engagement and marketing perspective," Bassi said.
"We want to decouple GNOME from deep changes in the application development platform, so that GTK can be released more often, and provide 'long term support' major versions."
As a result, following GNOME 3.38 being released on Wednesday, the next version of the desktop to be released in March 2021 will be called GNOME 40. Minor releases will then increment as 40.1, 40.2, and so on.
The project is also shifting to three releases in its development cycle -- alpha, beta, and release candidate -- which will do away with the even/odd versioning style previously used between stable and development code bases.
"After nearly 10 years of 3.x releases, the minor version number is getting unwieldy," Bassi said.
"It is also exceedingly clear that we're not going to bump the major version because of technological changes in the core platform, like we did for GNOME 2 and 3, and then piling on a major UX change on top of that.
"Radical technological and design changes are too disruptive for maintainers, users, and developers; we have become pretty good at iterating design and technologies, to the point that the current GNOME platform, UI, and UX are fairly different from what was released with GNOME 3.0, while still following the same design tenets."
As if to prove the point of the decision, the major improvements in version 3.38 of the open source desktop were a new Tour application to explain the GNOME to new users, a fresh coat of paint to some utilities, better support for multiple monitors with different refresh rates under Wayland, and the Maps application being able to be resized for phone use.
The new versioning scheme will only apply to GNOME itself. Libraries and applications that are outside the core set are free to do as they please.