GNOME throws down the gauntlet

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

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Representatives from 13 companies and organizations 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 license and open-source development model would prevent them from succumbing to the fragmentation and infighting that has plagued standardization 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 Inc. 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 Corp. has hindered competition by refusing to publicize all of the Windows and Office application programming interfaces.

What's in an open-source desktop?
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 on 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, and
  • 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."

    Who's who
    As part of Tuesday's Gnome Foundation unveiling, Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. 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 Inc., the Object Management Group, Red Hat Inc., VA Linux Systems Inc. and the Free Software Foundation.

    How can so many competitors and future competitiors find common ground? Red Hat CEO 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 license among any of us....With the GPL, we have eliminated the need for trust."