I am at the GNOME Boston Summit this morning. I am here as an observer; most of those in attendance are active contributors to the GNOME free desktop. Thanks to my friend Brian Cameron for letting me tag along.
The annual summit (North America) is held in Boston due to Red Hat being nearby. GNOME is spearheaded by Red Hat, although contributors hail from many companies (Brian works for Oracle) and countries around the world. The annual European GNOME conference, GAUDEC, is actually a much larger gathering.
With version 3.0 of GNOME looming in the spring, discussion is lively and there is talk of dogfooding ahead of the release. Of course, when the software you are developing is the desktop environment itself, running on a development branch (alpha? beta?) can have an immediate impact on your productivity. Is there any software in the world which is not a major PITA to get fully tested, for one reason or another? I don’t think there is. :)
A major topic, and prominent addition coming with GNOME 3.0, is GNOME Shell (short screencast demo here). GNOME Shell is one of the efforts taking free desktops into the next decade (do you like my marketing-speak?). Commercial operating systems have begun using GPU-assisted animations to make their desktops smoother and more intuitive, and the open source world is hot on their heels. Interestingly, Canonical (the company that distributes Ubuntu Linux) recently announced it would use a different technology from GNOME Shell for its next desktop release, a decision which has impact because of the very large Ubuntu user base. GNOME Shell is but one component of the greater GNOME ecosystem, from which Ubuntu is far from divorcing itself, but nonetheless this fracture point will certainly have some affect on the evolution of the free desktop.
There is much more I could write on what I’ve learned so far, perhaps about some of the interesting personalities and developer camps within this community, but I’ll sign off for now and enjoy the summit. After all, the point of these events is to meet folks “in the flesh”, and rid ourselves momentarily of the frictions of remote communication.