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In what can only be interpreted as a desperate attempt to catch up with the rest, the GNOME Desktop Project has announced that it will be developing its own operating system.

The announcement was made a few days back by Allan Day, a user interface developer with Red Hat. Day's post on this is, sad to say, the usual GNOME announcement, lacking in clarity, and long on buzzwords. But then, if it were otherwise, it would not be a GNOME announcement.

The O-S is meant to make GNOME available as an option for tablet and mobile users. But how long that will take is open to debate, given how slow GNOME has been to react in the past.

GNOME has been on a downward track ever since it was ditched by Canonical as the default interface for Ubuntu. Canonical wanted to go in one direction, GNOME had its own ideas and in April 2011, Ubuntu 11.04 emerged with a new look, called Unity.

Ubuntu had based its own release timetable on GNOME, coming out every six months to match the pace of development of the desktop project. But then, once design ideas started to diverge, Canonical had to look to going with what it thought would bring commercial success some years down the track.

GNOME's next effort, GNOME 3, did not exactly set the Thames on fire. It was the target of much criticism, but the GNOME developers did what they do best - they ignored all the criticism and went into denial.

This state of denial seemed peculiar when a project called GNOME shell extensions was begun to add some features to GNOME 3 which were not present in the main release. The level of user unhappiness with GNOME 3 was underlined even more when efforts by the Linux Mint distribution to preserve the attributes of GNOME 2 by using a fork called MATE as its defeault desktop environment met with much approval.

The downward trend in GNOME's fortunes has coincided with an upward trend in the fortunes of the KDE project, the main rival desktop environment in the Linux space. KDE has now ironed out all the kinks that were present in its 4.0 release - the one which made many users unhappy some four years ago - and is a mature solid product.

KDE has also made rapid strides towards a tablet version of the desktop and a release of the product, named Vivaldi, is expected sometime this year.

GNOME has yet to make any meaningful movement towards the mobile or tablet market. It appears to be stuck in the past, with no sense of direction.

The project is still stuck in the old timewarp of "write it and they will come". That no longer is the case; these days users are needed else projects tend to die. GNOME has corporate sponsors but given the multiplicity of projects, things have come to the point where the money invested has to make sense to the sponsors.

Else, it is very likely that if a more attractive option were to surface, the funds would go there. GNOME is now nearly 15 years old and it may not live to see its 20th if it continues to lag behind the rest of the development community in ideas and execution.

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Sam Varghese

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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.

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