Gnome throws down the gauntlet

Thirteen open source vendors that make up the Gnome Foundation are preparing to smash Microsoft's desktop monopoly

Thirteen open source vendors and organisations launch their plan for an alternative to the Windows/Office desktop monopoly.

Representatives from 13 companies and organisations took to the podium Tuesday at LinuxWorld here with one unified intention: to combat Microsoft's dominance on the desktop.

Members of the newly minted Gnome Foundation outlined the various open source technologies they are hoping to integrate going forward. The participants said they believed the very nature of the GNU public licence and open source development model would prevent them from succumbing to the fragmentation and infighting that has plagued standardisation efforts over the years. (GNU, which stands for GNU's Not Unix, is a collection of Unix-compatible software applications developed and maintained by the Free Software Foundation.)

"This is more than just another desktop or just another initiative," said Marco Boerries, Sun Microsystems vice president and general manager. Instead, the Gnome (pronounced Guh-Nome) Foundation's goal is to establish a user environment where members "won't need to be worried about somebody closing them out or eating their lunch".

Sun and other open source vendors have been vocal in their charges that Microsoft has hindered competition by refusing to publicise all of the Windows and Office application programming interfaces.

The folks backing the Gnome Project and its Gnome Foundation group of directors claim they want to change the rules for developers and users of desktop software.

The Gnome Project has championed the Gnome (GNU Network Object Model Environment) user environment that runs on a variety of Linux and Unix variants. The Gnome Foundation, the formation of which was announced Tuesday, will administer not only the direction of the open source Gnome interface but also a variety of other elements that will comprise the evolving Gnome desktop environment.

Among these elements are:

  • Gnome Office, the open source components of StarOffice contributed by Sun Microsystems

  • Evolution, a competitor to Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes on the groupware/messaging front that is being developed by Helix Code

  • Nautilus, an open source graphical file manager developed by Eazel

  • Mozilla, the open source version of the Netscape Navigator Web browser;

  • Sash, an open-source development tool recently placed into open source by IBM

  • Gnome's Bonobo component project and GTK toolkit work.

The foundation is aiming to roll into a single, embedded environment all of the various technologies, said Eazel vice president of engineering Bud Tribble. "The Gnome desktop will integrate embedded Mozilla into the [Eazel] Nautilus file manager," Tribble said. "From the user's view, they'll get a single view of the local storage, Web and Web services."

As part of Tuesday's Gnome Foundation unveiling, Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun's hardware business all lent their backing, by committing to make the Gnome interface an integrated part of the client user interfaces going forward.

Compaq said it is working on integrating the Gnome environment onto its iPaq handhelds. HP, IBM and Sun all said they are planning to offer Gnome as an adjunct to the Common Desktop Environment (CDE) on their Unix platforms. How rapidly any of the Gnome user environments will be available from their respective vendors is uncertain. Sun officials said they planned to have an early test version of Gnome on Solaris available before the end of the year, with a more solid release available to users by mid-2001.

In addition to hardware makers Compaq, HP, IBM and Sun, other backers of the Gnome Foundation include: Helix Code, CollabNet, Gnumatic, the Object Management Group, Red Hat, VA Linux Systems and the Free Software Foundation.

How can so many competitors and future competitiors find common ground? Red Hat chief executive Bob Young had an answer: "There's been a fundamental problem of getting industry consortium to work together... But we don't have a single corporate lawyer in the room. We haven't signed a single licence among any of us... With the GPL, we have eliminated the need for trust."

It had to be either Gnome or KDE that came up trumps. But as Charles Cooper will point out there are a lot of people who still prefer KDE, and they're not all that thrilled at the news elevating GNOME to the position of first among equals. But the Linux community is making a choice about its best interests -- and that makes entirely good sense. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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