As reported by OMGUbuntu, the founder of the GNOME project believes that the Linux desktop is dead. This wouldn’t be the first or the last time someone has made such remarks. In many ways, I believe that such talk should always be considered with the same level of caution as the claims of the “Year of the Linux desktop.” It seems like everyone, and admittedly even myself at times, have some sort of belief about the state of the Linux desktop.
Miguel de Icaza, the founder of the GNOME desktop environment project made these remarks right on the heels of incredible amounts of criticism against the latest version of the GNOME desktop, version 3. GNOME 3 did away with much of what was popular with the second edition and made a leap for a design more apt to fit the future of computing – a future where people use a broad range of devices. Apparently GNOME designers believe that both a small tablet screen and a large 40 inch desktop screen deserve the same interface. This made using the desktop a bit cumbersome when paired with a desktop interface tuned to perform on a 7-9 inch screens.
In spite of this, the comments that Mr. Icaza made were somewhat unsettling. Would in fact GNOME decide to leave the traditional Linux desktop behind and opt for catering to touch screen devices? Personally I believe that would be a suicide mission. Android has its own interface, and trying to convince any of the major device manufacturers to use GNOME would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible.
Mr. Icaza’s criticisms are focused on developers and their inability to develop mainstream applications for the Linux desktop, saying that applications built for one version of Linux might not work a year later as new system versions are released. I will agree with Mr. Icaza on this point. I have long argued that Linux needs a strong developer community, one that is dedicated to making truly compelling applications on the desktop. However it appears that Mr. Icaza is unaware of what is happening in the Ubuntu project as of late.
As of July last year, the Ubuntu project implemented an idea that I had posted to the Ubuntu Brainstorm site a long time ago. Many others in the project shared in this same dream and what became of it is now known as the Ubuntu App Developer site. Think of the UAD site as an equivalent to MSDN or the Apple Developer Network – it’s a place for developers to figure out how to create applications for the Ubuntu system, both novice and corporate programmers alike. Already, several big-name games have made their way onto the Ubuntu App Store.
I don’t think the Linux desktop is dead, even when it seems a lot of the attention is going solely to Android phones. Many of the major Linux distributions are doing great things and are still growing. The distribution with which I have the most familiarity, Ubuntu, is growing and also creating a very dynamic and energetic development community. Developing applications for Linux is becoming easier, not more difficult. If GNOME wants to leave the Linux desktop behind, that’s fine. However they should understand the consequences that there will be many traditional laptop and desktop users leaving them behind too.