Revolution and Evolution

by havoc

I agree
with Richard
that churning the existing GNOME with “radical“
change does not make sense. “3.0″ as a concept sucks.

I also like what
Rodney says
; my spin, the problem is not that the GNOME desktop is
not changing much. The problem is that “make a desktop” is a direction
with limited possibilities.

GNOME 2.0 and KDE 4 are bad models for change. They rewrote and broke
the code, but from a user-goals perspective, they are the same thing
as before. We shouldn’t feel bad; Windows Vista made the same
mistake. Nobody cares about Vista, because XP allows users to
accomplish all the same goals. Even if Vista didn’t have a bunch of
regressions, nobody would really care about it.

The fact is that people already have a desktop. They don’t want a new
desktop from GNOME, from Apple, or from Microsoft. Making another
desktop does not add anything to the world. On average, people who
have GNOME want to keep it, and the same for the other desktops.

People using the GNOME desktop want it to keep evolving slowly, get an
improvement here and there, but nothing radical. People not using the
GNOME desktop, for the most part, are not going to. They might want to
use some exciting new open source software one of us could invent, but I
don’t think “a desktop” qualifies.

As I said 3 years
ago
when the same angst came up, “GNOME 2 is in an important sense
the same thing as GNOME 1.” To make a different thing you
need to address different
goals and audiences
. Different is a mobile device instead of a
desktop, web apps instead of local apps, graphical Excel vs. text-only
Lotus, and so forth. Meet a new need, be a “paradigm shift.” Different
is not “make the graphics better,” “fix bugs,” “clean up the code,“
etc. Different is when you don’t have to ask people to switch, but
instead ask them to do something new or in a new way or new context.

With technology, different is disruptive (see “The Innovator’s
Dilemma”), while same is an uphill battle (see OS X or Firefox
for the best case — despite near-perfect execution by their
respective organizations, they remain nowhere near even 50%
marketshare). Same only wins large marketshare when the
incumbent market leader massively screws up. Different can be
popular despite a top-notch market leader doing everything right.

The idea of “revolutionizing the desktop” is broken on two
sides.

1) It’s broken because it keeps people from making the GNOME desktop as
it is the best product for the people who are using it (the current
Linux userbase). Work on the current product is necessary and
admirable. It’s not useless or to be ashamed of just because it’s not
“revolutionary.“

2) It’s broken because by definition if it’s still “the desktop,” it’s
not a revolution. Everyone has a desktop already. What do they not
have? Providing what they don’t have would be a revolution and could
lead to 80% marketshare.

Should GNOME continue to evolve and enhance the GNOME desktop, or
create new ideas and categories that help people do what they can’t
already do today? Surely GNOME (the community) should aspire to do
both. GNOME (the
desktop codebase), though, is not revolutionary, because it’s a
desktop. A “3.0″ won’t change that.

In both cases, the issue is to know the audience for the software
and do what they’d really like to see.

While I’m rehashing old points in response to other people rehashing
old angst, here is a Steve Jobs quote I’ve posted before:

This stuff doesn’t change the world. It really doesn’t
… Technologies can make it easier, can let us touch people we might
not otherwise. But it’s a disservice to constantly put things in a
radical new light — that it’s going to change everything. Things don’t
have to change the world to be important.

Update: Good idea from
Jono.
(And for the record, nobody should be looking to us old
GNOME 2.0 era people for vision, I hope they aren’t. It’s time for new
people to do new things. Just do it. GNOME 1.0 was not done by a lot
of people at first. Neither were Firefox, or KDE, or Linux, or
anything else.)

(This post was originally found at http://log.ometer.com/2008–06.html#11.2)