Revolution and Evolution

Havoc Pennington

June 11, 2008

Posted 2008-06-11

I agree with Richard [ ] that churning the existing GNOME with "radical" change does not make sense. "3.0" as a concept sucks.

I also like what Rodney says [ ]; my spin, the problem is not that the GNOME desktop is not changing much. The problem is that "make a desktop" is a direction with limited possibilities.

GNOME 2.0 and KDE 4 are bad models for change. They rewrote and broke the code, but from a user-goals perspective, they are the same thing as before. We shouldn't feel bad; Windows Vista made the same mistake. Nobody cares about Vista, because XP allows users to accomplish all the same goals. Even if Vista didn't have a bunch of regressions, nobody would really care about it.

The fact is that people already have a desktop. They don't want a new desktop from GNOME, from Apple, or from Microsoft. Making another desktop does not add anything to the world. On average, people who have GNOME want to keep it, and the same for the other desktops.

People using the GNOME desktop want it to keep evolving slowly, get an improvement here and there, but nothing radical. People not using the GNOME desktop, for the most part, are not going to. They might want to use some exciting new open source software one of us could invent, but I don't think "a desktop" qualifies.

As I said 3 years ago [ ] when the same angst came up, "GNOME 2 is in an important sense the same thing as GNOME 1." To make a different thing you need to address different goals and audiences [ ]. Different is a mobile device instead of a desktop, web apps instead of local apps, graphical Excel vs. text-only Lotus, and so forth. Meet a new need, be a "paradigm shift." Different is not "make the graphics better," "fix bugs," "clean up the code," etc. Different is when you don't have to ask people to switch, but instead ask them to do something new or in a new way or new context.

With technology, different is disruptive (see "The Innovator's Dilemma"), while same is an uphill battle (see OS X or Firefox for the best case - despite near-perfect execution by their respective organizations, they remain nowhere near even 50% marketshare). Same only wins large marketshare when the incumbent market leader massively screws up. Different can be popular despite a top-notch market leader doing everything right.

The idea of "revolutionizing the desktop" is broken on two sides.

1) It's broken because it keeps people from making the GNOME desktop as it is the best product for the people who are using it (the current Linux userbase). Work on the current product is necessary and admirable. It's not useless or to be ashamed of just because it's not "revolutionary."

2) It's broken because by definition if it's still "the desktop," [ ] it's not a revolution. Everyone has a desktop already. What do they not have? Providing what they don't have would be a revolution and could lead to 80% marketshare.

Should GNOME continue to evolve and enhance the GNOME desktop, or create new ideas and categories that help people do what they can't already do today? Surely GNOME (the community) should aspire to do both. GNOME (the desktop codebase), though, is not revolutionary, because it's a desktop. A "3.0" won't change that.

In both cases, the issue is to know the audience for the software and do what they'd really like to see.

While I'm rehashing old points in response to other people rehashing old angst, here is a Steve Jobs quote I've posted before:

This stuff doesn't change the world. It really doesn't ... Technologies can make it easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. But it's a disservice to constantly put things in a radical new light - that it's going to change everything. Things don't have to change the world to be important.

Update: Good idea from Jono [ ]. (And for the record, nobody should be looking to us old GNOME 2.0 era people for vision, I hope they aren't. It's time for new people to do new things. Just do it. GNOME 1.0 was not done by a lot of people at first. Neither were Firefox, or KDE, or Linux, or anything else.)

Copyright 2008