Sees possibility for a Qt-based GNOME - An interview about the future of the Linux desktop and problems with "Hardy Heron"
derStandard.at: Speaking about security, are you going to stay with AppArmor now that Novell has dropped the ball on it or are you going to change over to SELinux?
Shuttleworth: That's a very interesting question. There's certainly been a lot of change there. But that's one of the tricky things when managing the evolution of a platform, you are taking a leap of faith on certain communities. Especially with communities which are largely driven by other companies there's a real risk with that, cause they might just send their strategy.
derStandard.at: It looks like everyone has chosen GNOME as their default desktop, do you think that observation is true?
Shuttleworth: Yeah, but I don't think that's as definitive as that. If I look at the work that has been done in the KDE community, it is very vibrant. I use KDE on my desktop, I enjoy seeing the pace of change there, there is a lot of innovation in KDE4. I think the KDE guys have a point when they say their approach has made it easier for them to make leaps forward than the GNOME approach which has very predictable release schedules. The flipside to that is that this predictability and also the choice of the LGPL has made GNOME very good for business.
Rather than saying: "GNOME wins, KDE looses" I'd like us to say: "How can we get this communities to sit down and talk to each other"? We really need to have both, stable release cycles and the ability to evolve quickly and make big leaps like KDE4.
I'm very interested in finding out, how to get those two communities working closer together, how to get more collaboration, more sharing. Both at the level of technology but also at the level of best practices / processes.
derStandard.at: Talking to Nokia, it seems like they are interested in pushing this as well.
Shuttleworth: Well they just acquired Trolltech, so it makes sense for them. A lot is going to depend on what Nokia is going to do from a licensing point of view. And separately what GNOME is going to do if Nokia makes the Qt-licenses effectively compatible with the GNOME vision, can they embrace Qt as a platform?
derStandard.at: So you would favor GNOME to switch over to Qt?
Shuttleworth: Well, I think it would be perfectly possible to deliver the values of GNOME on top of Qt. There are licensing issues, GNOME is very much built on the LGPL, allowing companies to build their own products on a free software system, giving them some freedom and flexibility in their choice of licensing. That's very frankly been a huge drive for the adoption of GNOME by corporate ISVs.
Whether we'll be able to have the FSF excited about something, have GNOME excited about something, have Nokia excited about something which makes life better for developers - that's gonna be the interesting challenge for me. I'd like to see both desktops focusing on a common infrastructure. And we've already seen that, a lot of the Freedesktop initiatives have been embraced by both projects - HAL, d-bus for instance.
This also applies to other software projects, if you name your project g-something or k-something your are articulating a very specific user experience. Projects should really look to the whole Linux desktop and see how they can appeal to both sides.
derStandard.at: Recently there was a discussion about "decadence" in the GNOME community, discussing if GNOME is solely in a state of maintenance anymore. Do you think there have to be some bigger changes to get GNOME innovating again?
Shuttleworth: I think GNOME really set the pace about good guidance, good release management and good stability for downstream developers. And that's very valuable, that's one of the reasons why we picked GNOME as the first desktop supported in the Ubuntu platform, that's probably also the reason why the majority of companies that develop for Linux use GNOME. But it's equally important to have a very clearly articulated strategy for how to we will introduce waves of innovation. And I think the KDE-guys have a point when they say, if all you do is have an everlasting commitment to a stable API/ABI and do releases once every six months, you can never make big shifts of innovation.
It's not just as easy as saying we'll have GTK+ 2 then GTK+ 3, you really have to plan on how to introduce change into the platform. And I'd like to see more discussion in GNOME about that.
We need to think of that as "what's best practice, how do I manage change?" All the things we criticize about Microsoft and Apple, they really try to solve real problems. And you can't run an old Windows application on a recent Windows version.
derStandard.at: You used KDE as an example for big leaps, but isn't there also a danger in that, seeing how the KDE-project seems to struggle with some of the unfortunate side-effects of such a very big leap?
Shuttleworth: Yeah, that's a really interesting point. That's why I think it's not as simple as saying "six months release and than a big release which is perfect and then has no changes for two years". Because it won't be perfect the first time around as those big dislocations do hurt. That's why I think a very careful conversation between the lead thinkers, focused on real experience, focused on the real commitment to continue to deliver for the industry that stability, that predictability but also let's you introduce change. How you introduce change is very important. I think we should explore for example the idea of making sure when GTK+ 3 is introduced you can run in parallel with GTK+ 2, potentially even inside the same application. And that we don't say if GTK +3 is released it will be API/ABI-stable forever, cause it won't be perfect. So we might need to say: Lets GTK+ 3 iterate for a year or two and then make the API/ABI-commitment and drop the commitment on GTK+ 2.
derStandard.at: If you look on the desktop market today there is one operating system that is growing significantly and it's not Linux. It's OS X. What do you think is the reason for that?
Shuttleworth: First of all, we should really understand this, as it's an important observation: The fact that OS X is growing, tells us that Windows is weakening. The fact that OS X is growing and Linux isn't, tells you that OS X is offering things that Linux is not. One of those is the pace of change, the level of innovation. You really have to give credit to Apple for driving innovation. Another of those things is their focus on the web as an experience. They recognize very strongly that the web is the killer application of the PC today and not Microsoft today.
There is a real opportunity for us to deliver a great web experience, but we have to focus very strongly on getting this done.
derStandard.at: So OS X is more interesting for you than Windows?
Shuttleworth: For me OS X is more interesting. I believe that free software is the most amazing platform for innovation, but I believe that that innovation also tends to follow a "lazy path", people often choose the path of least resistance, they want to express their ideas and they want to find the easiest way to do that. And at the moment we don't offer a particular easy place to go and express your technology.
There's some exceptions to that obviously, if you look at Firefox plugins for example. Once Firefox got to the same level of functionality as Internet Explorer we saw an explosion in the number of plugins. That was driven by people saying "I have an idea on how to make the browser better". And what's the easiest way to achieve that? Go write a Firefox plugin! And I guess that should tell us a lot.
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