GNOME OS is on the way - but mainly for testing and development

The GNOME project, which is facing heavy criticism over usability issues, is to build a touch-capable 'GNOME OS' as a way of improving the overall experience for users and developers

Faced with GNOME's growing unpopularity in the Linux community, those working on the desktop environment and user interface are pushing on with a new way of improving the user experience while easing application development and testing: a GNOME OS.

Gnome Project
The GNOME Project is considering a GNOME OS. Image credit: GNOME Project (UK)

The idea has been around for a while, but at a recent conference in Spain the GNOME community put flesh on the idea. Red Hat user experience designer Allan Day explained in a blog post on Tuesday that the OS was not intended as a replacement for Linux distributions that use GNOME, but was "primarily intended as a platform for testing and development".

"In actual fact, all of the improvements that we hope to make through the GNOME OS initiative will directly improve what the GNOME project is able to offer distributions," Day wrote. "We're setting out to drain swamps, fix the most glaring issues in our ecosystem, and establish a new model for the future. We don't know whether we'll succeed, but there are enough people in our community who care about these issues that we just might be able to do it."

GNOME 3 has, according to many people including Linux father Linus Torvalds, severe usability issues — so much so that Ubuntu, the most popular Linux distribution, put its own, perhaps equally controversial, shell on top in the form of Unity.

'Completing the GNOME 3 experience'

Day's post suggested that the GNOME OS could help "complete" the GNOME 3 user experience — a task the community has decided must be accomplished within the next 18 months. Within the same timeframe, he added, the goal is to make GNOME 3 touch-compatible, so that it can take advantage of the tablet boom.

He also highlighted the fact that the community is creating a new suite of GNOME applications, "which [it plans] to grow into a new model for accessing content, whether it is stored locally or online".

However, Day noted, it is too hard at the moment to create and distribute apps for GNOME, and the APIs are too unstable. A GNOME OS SDK will be part of the solution there, but that depends on setting up a new application framework first.

"GNOME contributors will be creating a proposal for a new model for application development and installation in the coming months," Day wrote. "We spoke about how we want to make this framework available to existing GNOME distributions if they want to use it. The benefits for distributions: sandboxed applications that will be compatible for years instead of months, less packaging work, and maybe, just maybe, lots more apps."

'Ambitious' goals

These developments would also be accompanied by a new build system that would allow automated testing — an essential step for speeding up the development process. Here, Day said, the community wants to have a build bot in use within half a year.

"Each of the areas that we are focusing on for GNOME OS — a new framework for applications, an SDK, better testing, a well-defined core UX and enhanced hardware compatibility — tie together," Day wrote. "You can't define applications without first defining a core UX. You can't talk about an SDK until you've defined your application framework. We have to target a range of areas if we want a coherent plan."

"Sure, these goals are ambitious, and maybe they won't happen. The targets that we have set for GNOME OS aren't as unrealistic as you might think though. People within our community are already working in these areas."