GNOME explained

GNOME (in RP or in the US/Canada)[1] is a desktop environment—the graphical user interface which runs on top of a computer operating system—composed entirely of free software. It is an international project that includes creating software development frameworks, selecting application software for the desktop, and working on the programs which manage application launching, file handling, and window and task management.

GNOME is part of the GNU Project and can be used with various Unix-like operating systems, most notably those built on top of the Linux kernel and the GNU system, and as part of Java Desktop System in Solaris.

The name originally stood for GNU Network Object Model Environment.


The GNOME project puts heavy emphasis on simplicity, usability, and making things “just work”. The other aims of the project are:


In 1996, the KDE project was started. KDE was free software from the start, but members of the GNU project were concerned with KDE's dependence on the then non-free Qt widget toolkit. In August 1997, two projects were started in response to this issue: the Harmony toolkit (a free replacement for the Qt libraries) and GNOME (a different desktop not using Qt, but built entirely on top of free software).[3] The initial project leaders for GNOME were Miguel de Icaza and Federico Mena.

In place of the Qt toolkit, GTK+ was chosen as the base of the GNOME desktop. GTK+ uses the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL), a free software license that allows GPL-incompatible software (including proprietary software) to link to it. The GNOME desktop itself is licensed under the LGPL for its libraries, and the GPL for applications that are part of the GNOME project. Having the toolkit and libraries under the LGPL allows applications written for GNOME to use a much wider set of licenses (including proprietary software licenses).[4]

In 1998, Qt became open source. While Qt is dual-licensed under both the QPL and the GPL, the freedom to link proprietary software with GTK+ at no charge makes it differ from Qt. However proponents of the free software philosophy deem the LGPL a disadvantage for free software developers. Using the ordinary GPL for a library gives free software developers an advantage over proprietary developers: a library that they can use, while proprietary developers cannot use it.[5] With Qt licensed under the GPL, the Harmony Project stopped its efforts at the end of 2000, as KDE did not depend on non-free software anymore. In contrast, as of 2009, the development of GNOME has not stopped.

An LGPL licensing option for Qt has been announced for March 2009.


The name “GNOME” was proposed as an acronym of GNU Network Object Model Environment by Elliot Lee, one of the authors of ORBit and the Object Activation Framework. It refers to GNOME’s original intention of creating a distributed object framework similar to Microsoft’s OLE.[6] This no longer reflects the core vision of the GNOME project, and the full expansion of the name is now considered obsolete. As such, some members of the project advocate dropping the acronym and re-naming “GNOME” to “Gnome”.[7]

Project structure

As with most free software projects, the GNOME project is loosely managed. Discussion chiefly occurs on a number of public mailing lists.[8]

In August 2000 the GNOME Foundation was set up to deal with administrative tasks and press interest and to act as a contact point for companies interested in developing GNOME software. While not directly involved in technical decisions, the Foundation does coordinate releases and decide which projects will be part of GNOME. Membership is open to anyone who has made a non-trivial contribution to the project.[9] Members of the Foundation elect a board of directors every November, and candidates for the positions must be members themselves.

Developers and users of GNOME gather at an annual meeting known as GUADEC in order to discuss the current state of the project and its future direction.[10]

GNOME often incorporates standards from into itself to allow GNOME applications to appear more integrated into other desktops (and vice versa), and encourages cooperation as well as competition.

Major subprojects

GNOME is built from a large number of different projects. A few of the major ones are listed below:

A number of language bindings are available allowing applications to be written in a variety of programming languages, such as C++ (gtkmm), Java (java-gnome), Ruby (ruby-gnome2), C#, (Gtk#), Python (PyGTK), Perl (gtk2-perl) and many others. The only languages currently used in applications that are part of an official GNOME desktop release are C, C# and Python.[11]

Look and feel

GNOME is designed around the traditional computing desktop metaphor. Its handling of windows, applications and files is similar to that of contemporary desktop operating systems. In its default configuration, the desktop has a launcher menu for quick access to installed programs and file locations; open windows may be accessed by a taskbar along the bottom of the screen and the top-right corner features a notification area for programs to display notices while running in the background. However these features can be moved to almost anywhere the user desires, replaced with other functions or removed altogether.

GNOME uses Metacity as its default window manager. Users can change the appearance of their desktop through the use of themes, which are sets consisting of an icon set, window manager border and GTK+ theme engine and parameters. Popular GTK+ themes include Bluecurve and Clearlooks (the current default theme).

GNOME puts emphasis on being easy for everyone to use. The HIG helps guide developers in producing applications which look and behave similarly, in order to provide a cohesive GNOME interface.


Since GNOME v2.0, a key focus of the project has been usability. As a part of this, the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) were created, which is an extensive guide for creating quality, consistent and usable GUI programs, covering everything from GUI design to recommended pixel-based layout of widgets.

During the v2.0 rewrite, many settings were deemed to be of little or no value to the majority of users and were removed. For instance, the preferences section of the Panel were reduced from a dialog of six tabs to one with two tabs. Havoc Pennington summarized the usability work in his 2002 essay "Free Software UI", emphasizing the idea that all preferences have a cost, and it's better to "unbreak the software" than to add a UI preference to do that:[12]

Some people believe that GNOME should be more functional. One of these is Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel, who commented in a usability-related discussion on the GNOME usability mailing list:[13]

However, in recent months, Torvalds disliked upgrading KDE from version 3 to version 4.0, as his distribution offered, and switched to GNOME:[14]


Each of the parts making up the GNOME project has its own version number and release schedule. However, individual module maintainers coordinate their efforts to create a full GNOME stable release on a roughly six-month schedule.

The releases listed in the table below are classed as stable.

August 1997[15] GNOME development announced
1.0March 1999[16] First major GNOME release
1.0.53October 1999[17] "October"
1.2May 2000[18] "Bongo"
1.4April 2001[19] "Tranquility"
2.0June 2002[20] Major upgrade based on GTK2. Introduction of the Human Interface Guidelines.
2.2February 2003[21] Multimedia and file manager improvements.
2.4September 2003[22] "Temujin": Epiphany, accessibility support.
2.6March 2004[23] Nautilus changes to a spatial file manager, and a new GTK+ file dialog is introduced. A short-lived fork of GNOME, GoneME, is created as a response to the changes in this version.
2.8September 2004[24] Improved removable device support, adds Evolution.
2.10March 2005[25] Lower memory requirements and performance improvements. Adds: new panel applets (modem control, drive mounter and trashcan); and the Totem and Sound Juicer applications
2.12September 2005[26] Nautilus improvements; improvements in cut/paste between applications and integration. Adds: Evince PDF viewer; New default theme: Clearlooks; menu editor; keyring manager and admin tools. Based on GTK+ 2.8 with cairo support.
2.14March 2006[27] Performance improvements (over 100% in some cases); usability improvements in user preferences; GStreamer 0.10 multimedia framework. Adds: Ekiga video conferencing application; Deskbar search tool; Pessulus lockdown editor; Fast user switching; Sabayon system administration tool.
2.16September 2006[28] Performance improvements. Adds: Tomboy notetaking application; Baobab disk usage analyser; Orca screen reader; GNOME Power Manager (improving laptop battery life); improvements to Totem, Nautilus; compositing support for Metacity; new icon theme. Based on GTK+ 2.10 with new print dialog.
2.18March 2007[29] Performance improvements. Adds: Seahorse GPG security application, allowing encryption of emails and local files; Baobab disk usage analyser improved to support ring chart view; Orca screen reader; improvements to Evince, Epiphany and GNOME Power Manager, Volume control; two new games, GNOME Sudoku and glchess. MP3 and AAC audio encoding.
2.20September 2007[30] Tenth anniversary release. Evolution backup functionality; improvements in Epiphany, EOG, GNOME Power Manager; password keyring management in Seahorse. Adds: PDF forms editing in Evince; integrated search in the file manager dialogs; automatic multimedia codec installer.
2.22March 2008[31] Addition of Cheese, a tool for taking photos from webcams and Remote Desktop Viewer; basic window compositing support in Metacity; introduction of GVFS; improved playback support for DVDs and YouTube, MythTV support in Totem; internationalised clock applet; Google Calendar support and message tagging in Evolution; improvements in Evince, Tomboy, Sound Juicer and Calculator.
2.24September 2008[32] Addition of the Empathy instant messenger, Ekiga 3.0, tabbed browsing in Nautilus (file manager), better multiple screens support and improved digital TV support.

Source code

GNOME releases are made to the FTP server[33] in the form of source code with configure scripts, which are compiled by operating system vendors and integrated with the rest of their systems before distribution. Most vendors use only stable and tested versions of GNOME, and provide it in the form of easily installed, pre-compiled packages. The source code of every stable and development version of GNOME is stored in the GNOME Subversion source code repository.[34]

A number of build-scripts (such as JHBuild or GARNOME) are available to help automate the process of compiling the source code.

Future developments

There are many sub-projects under the umbrella of the GNOME project, and not all of them are currently included in GNOME releases. Some are considered purely experimental concepts, or for testing ideas that will one day migrate into stable GNOME applications; others are code that is being polished for direct inclusion.


The next version of the desktop environment was officially announced at the 2008 GUADEC conference held in Istanbul in July. Release has been targeted for 2010, in place of version 2.30 of the current branch. Although the desktop will undergo a major revision, changes planned so far are mostly incremental.[35]


GNOME is the default desktop environment for several Linux distributions, most notably Debian, Fedora and Ubuntu.

For derived and other distributions, see Comparison of Linux distributions.

See also

External links

Notes and References

  1. Web site: LinuxWorld: Linux readies its desktop assault. 2008-10-02.
  2. Web site: GNOME Languages. 2008-01-20.
  3. Web site: Stallman on Qt, the GPL, KDE, and GNOME. Richard Stallman. 2005-09-09. 2000-09-05.
  4. Web site: GNU Lesser General Public License - Free Software Foundation. 2008-01-20.
  5. Web site: Why you shouldn't use the Lesser GPL for your next library. 2008-09-11.
  6. Web site: GTK+ / Gnome Application Development. 2006-09-08. Pennington. Havoc. Havoc Pennington. 1999.
  7. Web site: Desktop Development mailing list. 2006-05-07.
  8. Web site: GNOME mailing lists, rules and FAQs.
  9. Web site: Membership of the GNOME foundation. 2005-09-08.
  10. Web site: About GUADEC.
  11. Mono bindings a blessed dependency? [Was: Tomboy in 2.16]]. 2006-04-20. 2007-09-20. desktop-devel. Newren. Elijah.
  12. Web site: "Free Software UI". 2007-03-08.
  13. Web site: Printing dialog and GNOME. Linus Torvalds. 2005-12-12. 2007-12-13.
  14. Web site: Linux founder Linus Torvalds talks about open-source identity. Linus Torvalds. 2009-01-22. 2009-01-26.
  15. Web site: The story of the GNOME project. Miguel. de Icaza.
  16. GNOME press release
  17. "October GNOME" release now available. 1999-10-12. 2007-09-20. gnome-announce. Lee. Elliot.
  18. GNOME press release
  19. GNOME press release
  20. GNOME 2.0 Desktop and Developer Platform Released!. 2002-06-27. 2007-09-20. desktop-devel. Waugh. Jeff.
  21. GNOME press release
  22. Announcing the GNOME 2.4.0 Desktop & Developer Platform. 2003-09-11. 2007-09-20. gnome-announce. Waugh. Jeff.
  23. Announcing the GNOME 2.6.0 Desktop & Developer Platform. 2004-03-31. 2007-09-20. gnome-announce. Sobala. Andrew.
  24. GNOME press release
  25. GNOME press release
  26. GNOME press release
  27. GNOME press release
  28. Celebrating the release of GNOME 2.16!. 2006-09-06. 2007-09-20. gnome-announce. Newren. Elijah.
  29. Celebrating the release of GNOME 2.18!. 2007-03-14. 2007-09-20. gnome-announce. Newren. Elijah.
  30. Web site: GNOME 2.20 officially released. 2007-09-19. 2007-09-20. Ars Technica.
  31. Celebrating the release of GNOME 2.22!. 2008-03-12. 2008-03-12. gnome-announce-list. Untz. Vincent.
  32. Celebrating the release of GNOME 2.24!. 2008-09-24. 2008-09-27. gnome-announce-list. Untz. Vincent.
  33. Web site: GNOME stable release ftp server.
  34. Web site: Information about the GNOME source code repository.
  35. Web site: GNOME 3.0 officially announced... and explained. 2008-08-02.