Brainstorming with GNOME's Stormy Peters

As I wrote last week, foundations are playing an increasingly important role in the development of free software. I cited Mozilla Foundation and GNOME Foundation - although Matthew Aslett rightly pointed out that Eclipse is a leader, too - but in one respect Mozilla and GNOME are somewhat different.

We hear a lot about Mozilla's plans, articulated by Mitchell Baker, now ably abetted by Mark Surman, but GNOME is rather less high profile. The same goes for the head of the GNOME Foundation, Stormy Peters, so I was delighted to come across this very full interview with her.

It covers her own background, and various aspects of the current GNOME project. I found this section on moving beyond the traditional desktop particularly interesting:

We have the traditional desktop, whether desktop is an overused word or not. But we also have projects like the online desktop, which is trying to merge online applications in the cloud with your desktop. We have the GNOME desktop on Nokia tablets, cell phones, netbooks, and other devices.

GNOME technology is used on a device used in classrooms that can test things like temperature, altitude, or pressure. Instead of having a whole computer, they just have a little test device that gives them everything they need right there.

I think computing is definitely changing. It used to be that you carried your laptop with you everywhere, and now with a lot of the smartphones, I see businesspeople actually leaving their laptops behind completely. They’re working entirely from their tablet, their iPhone, or their cellphone.

This is a special strength of free software. The fact that it can be hacked in an unconstrained fashion means that all kinds of new uses can be found for it without needing to ask permission from a central licensing body. Similarly, the modular nature of free code makes it much easier to adapt.

It's good to find Peters getting some justly-deserved limelight here - she plays an important role in the open source ecosystem. What I'd like to see now is for her and the GNOME Foundation to start thinking more strategically about how they can help to drive and propagate openness in all its forms, and then to communicate that with us, just as Baker has been doing increasingly at Mozilla.

Now is a good moment to take possession of the moral (and technical) high ground, as familiarity with and acceptance of free software continues to grow, and Microsoft continues to flounder, caught painfully between the pincers of open source and cloud computing.


Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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