Will Linux, Unix Share Same User Interface?

Consortium to attempt developing unified graphical user interface for multiple vendors.

Someday in the not too distant future, Linux and Unix may share the same default graphical user interface, much in the way that Windows 98 and NT have the same GUI.

Indeed, The Gnome Foundation, an informal consortium, is attempting to develop software that delivers a similar user experience across HP-UX, Sun Solaris and Linux. The consortium--which includes the Gnome Project, Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat and Sun Microsystems, among others--is focused on several key technologies areas. They include the Gnome user interface, related programming libraries and APIs, Sun's Star Office, and Web-browsing software.

The consortium hopes to meld those technologies into cross-platform software that can give Windows, Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer a run for their money. The consortium also represents a counterattack against Microsoft's .Net initiative.

Still, The Gnome Foundation faces tall challenges. History shows that multivendor efforts often fail because managers from member companies can't put aside their differences long enough to beat Microsoft. Two examples: Microsoft OLE, an early-1990s object standard, easily torpedoed OpenDoc, a multivendor alternative from Apple Computer, IBM and Novell that never gained critical mass. Likewise, the Unix industry made several attempts to rally around a single standard before Windows NT's debut in 1994, but those efforts never lived up to their early billing.

By most accounts, The Gnome Foundation is a very early work in progress. For example, top people from the Gnome Project barely know their counterparts on Sun's Star Office team, and vice versa.

Even if the Gnome Foundation's member companies can focus on the job at hand, unifying their software will take time. Indeed, Sun and HP don't plan to release a Gnome replacement for their respective Common Desktop Environment interfaces until late 2001.

Meanwhile, Gnome must compete with another popular user interface: the K Desktop Environment (KDE). Kurt Granroth, a KDE Core Team Member and SuSE employee, says KDE 2.0 will be out by early November, months before the Gnome 2.0 interface appears.

Still, Granroth is concerned about the Gnome initiative. With "HP, Sun and Red Hat all on the same page, people will see Gnome as everything," Granroth concedes. "That's not true."

Gnome backers hope to change that.