There are plenty of celebratory noises emanating from the project but one needs to ask: was a second such project really needed? Is it one more classic case of development hours being wasted when all of it could have been ploughed into an already existing project, the K Desktop Environment?
Is this just one more case of duplication in the FOSS arena? Did we need GNOME at all?
At the time it was set up, there was one virtuous reason cited as being behind the project: the need for a free desktop. This was an emotional appeal to users - KDE, which had kicked off in October 1996, was using a non-free library called QT which was owned by a company called Trolltech. GNOME claimed to be "free" software.
Hence it was easy to paint KDE as being from the dark side.
By the time GNOME came along, KDE was already quite a good desktop for GNU/Linux and UNIX. (QT has now been released under the GPL as well).
Along with Nat Friedman, de Icaza set up a company in 1999. It was initially called International Gnome Support, then Helix Code and later Ximian. The aim of the company was to market the GNOME desktop commercially. It was bought by Novell in August 2003.
Both de Icaza and Friedman had one thing in common: they were acquainted before they met, at Microsoft in 1997, where Friedman was an intern on the IIS team. De Icaza interviewed for a job at Redmond, to join the team that was porting the company's Java VM to the Sparc, but was unsuccessful.
De Icaza and Friedman have another thing in common today - both are big names at Novell, the company which signed a deal with Microsoft in November 2006, a deal which was a sellout as far as the FOSS community was concerned. De Icaza started a project a few years back to replicate Microsoft's .NET development environment, something he calls Mono.
KDE and GNOME are supposedly cooperating on some aspects of desktop development; according to Wikipedia, both "participate in Freedesktop.org, an effort to standardise Unix desktop interoperability, although there is still some friendly competition between them."
But the word friendly sits awkwardly in any discussion about these projects, considering that in 2001 Ximian quietly used terms as "kde", "konqueror", "dcop" (the KDE "Desktop Communications Protocol"), and kparts (the KDE component model) as Google adwords for its own ads. When KDE developers Kurt Granroth and Andreas Pour published an article titled "'Business Ethics' in the Open Source Community?" which chastised Ximian for this deceitful practice, Friedman had sufficient chutzpah to say: "We knew what we were doing," noting that Ximian's goal was to ensure "as many users for Ximian GNOME as possible," within the context of "friendly competition."
Such definitions tend to stretch the English language even in this day and age when you can kill 1000 civilians with a bomb and call it "collateral damage."
This month, the GNOME project - one of two main choices when it comes to desktop environments for Linux - celebrates 10 years of existence. It was founded on August 15, 1997, by Miguel de Icaza and Federico Mena-Quintero.
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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.