Interview with Quim Gil of the GNOME Advisory Board

Stormy Peters continues her series of interviews with GNOME Foundation Advisory Board Members, interviewing Quim Gil of Nokia.

Nokia is credited with starting an ecosystem of companies around GNOME and other free software technologies. How did that happen?

The Maemo project pioneered introducing a set of free desktop technologies in a commercial mobile product. At the time many of the experts of those technologies were either hobbyists or professionals in other areas that couldn’t suspect that a company like Nokia was interested in their work. The first contacts proceeded. Some of them became Nokia employees and moved to Finland, some of them were encouraged to create their own companies and work for Nokia. Thanks to this combined approach Nokia got the expertise in house and at the same time an ecosystem of new small and mostly European companies flourished around the GNOME project.

How did Nokia first start using GNOME technologies?

GTK+ was chosen as base toolkit to develop the Maemo UI. The main reason to choose this technology was the permissive LGPL licensing model common to the rest of the GNOME project and the decentralized setup of companies and individuals collaborating around the GTK+ development and other projects under the GNOME Foundation umbrella. At the time, this setup was clearly different than the setup around Qt, with a commercial & GPL dual licensing model and a development process in the hands of Trolltech. The choice of GTK+ brought almost as a cascade many of the other technological choices.

From a Nokia perspective, what do you think the GNOME Foundation is doing well?

The GNOME Foundation sustains the GNOME project as a neutral place of collaboration, which is a goal difficult to achieve and keep for years. Neutral in the sense that no single company has overall control, and also neutral in the sense that there is a good balance between commercial companies, public organizations, non-profits and a wide group of individuals.

What do you think the GNOME Foundation should be doing more of?

One could argue that the GNOME Foundation is ultimately responsible for the success of the GNOME project. There have been enormous developments and changes in the free software world and in the software industry in general, specially in the mobile context. Some GNOME Foundation members are quite active promoting these changes but if you go to gnome.org and you follow the public activity it feels like the project is not up to this speed. The feeling of long 2.x desktop-centric maintenance mode still prevails.

Maybe the GNOME Foundation should have a clear strategy on whether to jump on these new challenges shaking the industry or keep polishing the mission (basically fulfilled) of covering the functionality and user experience of the traditional computer desktops.

After the acquisition of Trolltech and transferring Hildon to the community, what is Nokia’s position about GNOME technologies?

This question still brings us to the old topic about what are GNOME technologies. Moving to a Qt centric platform with a Qt API style one could quickly conclude that Nokia has given the back to the GNOME project. However, looking at the MeeGo architecture it’s easy to see that there is a good collection of middleware technologies common to the GNOME Mobile architecture. Also, under the Qt style API there are many more components that strictly speaking belong to the freedesktop.org umbrella, but not coincidentally have their core developers and project dynamics quite aligned with the GNOME context.

This explanation doesn’t satisfy the average GNOME enthusiast, but note that our approach around Qt API and application framework + GNOME style middleware doesn’t satisfy the average KDE enthusiast either. One option is to keep this discussion in the 90s trying to place MeeGo in the GNOME-KDE axis. The option we push for, though, is to find the great aspects in each project and communities, to synthesize them in a leading free mobile platform.

Nokia has been moving away from GTK+ to Qt but recently gave $50,000 to the GNOME Foundation to help fund GTK+ applications on Maemo and MeeGo. Why did you do that?

When we announced last year the move to a Qt based UI and API, we mentioned that GTK+/Hildon could be supported by the community if there was enough interest. After some discussions with GTK+/Hildon maintainers and a BoF in the Maemo Summit, we decided to help the kick-off of that activity through a fund. The idea we had was to promote the porting or development of GTK+ based applications in Maemo 5 and a compatibility bridge to following releases.

This fund was discussed and overall agreed with the GNOME Foundation in the context of Maemo 5 and the Nokia N900, a mobile device with a GTK+ based UI that has received very good feedback. The outcome of this fund is yet to be seen. Nokia has made a big investment in Hildon and GTK+ in the past years, and even now when our team is entirely focused in Qt we have tried to find a reasonable transition path for the Maemo developer base. We hope this fund is useful for GNOME developers and indirectly for Maemo and MeeGo users.

What do you see as the GNOME community’s biggest challenge in the next few years?

Is the GNOME project in a trend of innovation or a trend of maintenance and optimization? GNOME is doing well as a desktop environment for deployments of traditional computers that need to just work, but what about all the innovation happening around the mobile and new computer platforms (the ones that MeeGo tries to address at once, for instance)? There you have Android/Chromium, iPhone and now MeeGo pushing for alternative stacks with UI and application frameworks.

Where is GNOME standing in such context and trends? This is a question common to KDE by the way, and to most of the Linux distributions GNOME has been relying upon to increase its user base.

How would you like to see Nokia and GNOME working together in the future?

It would be good to see GNOME taking an active role in the context of MeeGo, a project that combines upstream development with integration in order to deliver an innovative open platform..
The GNOME community has been pushing plenty of brilliant ideas and concepts that now exist as key pieces of software in the free desktop stack. There is an ongoing consolidation process to establish the main platforms of the next years. We believe MeeGo will be one of them: what other strong alternatives are there closer to GNOME?

How do you think your alliance with Intel through MeeGo will affect how you work with free software communities?

Nokia and Intel are often mentioned as good examples of companies collaborating with free software upstream projects, and the MeeGo context should only improve that.

The alliance between Nokia and Intel includes also The Linux Foundation. The goal is to deliver a top class free operating system for the mobile and computer industries. The approach to achieve this is to run an open project combining the usual free software processes with professional software development. Currently deliveries still go over openness but transparency and community involvement will take its prominent place soon. All this will be much clearer in few months, after the first release comes and the list of companies involved and contributing increases.

About the Author

Stormy Peters is the Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation, co-founder and President of Kids on Computers and dedicated to making the world a better place through free and open source software.

Discuss this story with other readers on the GNOME forums.

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Posted on June 19, 2010, in June 2010. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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