Behind the Scenes: Stormy Peters

Jayson Rowe interviews Stormy Peters, the Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation. Stormy discusses how she started in open source, her role in GNOME, her view of GNOME’s future and more.

Stormy Peters

Short Intro

  • Located in: Colorado
  • Profession: Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation
  • Nickname on IRC: stormy
  • Homepage and blog: http://stormyscorner.com
  • Twitter or identi.ca: twitter.com/storming

Interview

Could you tell us a little about yourself and your relationship with GNOME and Open Source in general?

I fell in love with computers at a young age because I loved what they could do. When we finally got a computer class, I was always getting the whole class in trouble because I’d turn my keyboard into a piano or my screen into a bunch of fun graphics. Luckily for me, the teachers always understood and built on that enthusiasm.

In college I was a bit frustrated that the whole class would write an operating system or the whole class would write a compiler. 20 operating systems! 50 compilers! Why didn’t we each write a different part and build something really cool? So when I discovered free and open source software (which had been around for a long time, unknown to me), I thought it was awesome.

At the time I was working in the Unix lab at HP where I managed the desktop team. In 1999 we were using CDE and it still had lots of bugs and it looked old. And here was this new thing called Linux and it had not one but several desktops and they did more than ours did. One thing led to another, and I ended up meeting with Ximian to talk about porting GNOME to HP-UX …

Could you tell us about your role as Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation?

My job is to support the GNOME project. (And the GNOME project’s goal is to provide a free and open source desktop for all. Although it should probably be said a free and open source platform for all, now that we have GNOME Mobile.) I see my job as having 5 major parts. One is being the eyes and ears for GNOME. Being someone the public or the industry can contact when they want to reach out to GNOME. Being the person the sponsor companies can contact when they have questions or ideas. Plus keeping up on opportunities for GNOME. Like with netbooks. The second is money. A major part of my job, at least in the beginning, is fundraising. This includes getting more corporate sponsors as well as raising the awareness around our individual donor program, Friends of GNOME. We want to do things in the future, like hire a system administrator, that take more consistent supplies of money. Which ties well into the third part of my job which is marketing. We want to make sure that people are aware of the good work we are doing so that they support us, join us, and enable us to do more good work. Business development would be the fourth area. Recognizing new opportunities for GNOME and making sure the right people are involved to make it happen. Lastly is what we’ve been calling “housekeeping”, just making sure the Foundation runs well day to day. That good ideas get executed on and that nothing gets dropped.

You have written on your blog recently about GNOME as the “Computing Platform” for the future. What does the GNOME desktop of the future look like too you?

The GNOME of the future will adapt to the way users of the future use their computer. You already see this with GNOME Mobile which runs on devices from smartphones to tablets to netbooks. The discussion that is happening now around the user experience for GNOME 3.0 is really interesting as it’s taking into account that users are using a lot of internet based applications and they think about their files differently than the traditional file system is set up to happen.

In a recent blog post, you wrote about GNOME and KDE working together. Could you elaborate on these collaborations and do you think collaborative efforts like this will help strengthen Open Source desktop systems as a whole?

GNOME and KDE have been working together on a number of fronts from technical projects like D-Bus to efforts like co-locating Akademy and GUADEC next year. I think these efforts will strenghen open source desktops. We’ll collaborate where it makes sense for our users and partners and differentiate where it makes sense to give our users choice.

The Free Software community seems to be a very much male dominated area. What can we do to encourage more women to become involved in the GNOME community, as well as Free Software as a whole?

I’ve found the GNOME project in particular very welcoming to women. I was greeted at my very first GUADEC with “you’re a girl!” GNOME has done some great things, like noticing that none of the GNOME Google Summer of Code applicants were women, so they set up an Outreach program targetted at women and gave them projects and mentors. I think GNOME has been very proactive in this area. I think the big change has to come at the elementary school level and I think as computers reach more people as smartphones and devices like netbooks and XO’s, we’ll reach younger and younger women, before they decide that they don’t want to be in computer science.

We all know that marketing is important for getting the GNOME project properly positioned in the community. Is the marketing strategy different for GNOME than it would be for a product controlled by a large corporation?

Absolutely. GNOME needs marketing to position itself in the industry, the community,the general public, and it’s users. However, in a traditional company, you could look at the roadmap for the next couple of years, figure out a campaign (primarily geared at selling product, making money) and then spend money to reach that group. GNOME’s goals are different – GNOME still wants market share but they give away the product. Marketing is about raising awareness of what’s available and why it’s cool that it’s free and open source software.

I did an interview about GNOME marketing that you can find here, http://www.initmarketing.tv/node/90.

What are some ways that the GNOME community can help with positioning GNOME in the Free/Open Source software community?

I think GNOME is pretty well known in the Free and Open Source Software community. Where we all need to continue to work is to raise awareness in the rest of the world. Show your parents, your friends, use Twitter … we all spend lots of time explaining the benefits of FOSS and GNOME and I think we need to continue. Explaining what it is, why the system works and why it’s good for individuals and society. Tell stories like the breast cancer scanner that uses open source software or the One Laptop per Child project or the schools in Extremadura or the Garmin GPS.

Do you think Cloud Computing and online media content such as micro-blogs and social networks will change the need for a desktop platform?

Absolutely. I think we need to move now to anticipate what people using cloud computing and online apps need from a desktop platform. For example, as netbooks and smartphones grow in popularity they will need desktop technologies that work well on those devices like GNOME Mobile. As they use social networking and online applications, they will need a lot of the new technologies we are building into GNOME 3.0.

Do have any specific goals for GNOME in 2009?

I think this is a question for the community. 🙂 GNOME 3.0 discussions are well underway with a roadmap, new technologies and new user interfaces. We also recently launched a new Friends of GNOME program that includes a monthly subscription to support GNOME. It’s been very successful – we’ve raised almost as much money in the first quarter of 2009 as we did in all of 2008! We hope the continued success of the program will enable us to do things like usability studies, hackfests, and maybe a sys admin if we raise enough. So spread the word!

On the GNOME Foundation side, we are seeing a lot of interest from new potential sponsors, especially in the mobile space.

Now that all of that GNOME stuff is out of the way, could you share a little about yourself personally, such as non-computing related hobbies, talents and passions?

My all time passion is learning, usually through reading. I read a couple of books a week, usually science fiction and nonfiction, and I go a bit crazy if I don’t find time to read! And as anybody who’s spent anytime with me knows, I love watching my kids learn and grow. At 8 and 2, they keep us busy and entertained!

My favorite vacation is sailing. It’s active, yet relaxing, and there’s always new places to be explored. And I really get away from the internet and work as there’s no power for the laptop!

Do you have any closing comments or thoughts you would like to share with our readers?

I’m really excited to be a part of the GNOME community. I want everyone to know I’m here to help the GNOME project and I’d love to meet them, hear their thoughts and ideas and help however I can.

About the author

Jayson Rowe is a Network Administrator from Darlington, SC. His primary interests are Desktop and Server virtualization, and in his spare time enjoys playing Guitar and composing music.

Discuss this story with other readers on the GNOME forums.

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Posted on April 21, 2009, in April 2009. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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