Industry Heavyweights Get Behind GNOME

A number of industry heavyweights—HP, Compaq, IBM, Sun, Red Hat, among others—announced their support for GNOME at LinuxWorld, held in San Jose, CA from August 14 to 17. GNOME, open source software and part of the GNU, is a graphical user interface for Linux. It provides an alternative to KDE, used in Linux systems from SuSE, Corel, and Caldera.

In announcing the news, Miguel de Icaza, founder of the GNOME project, unveiled five major initiatives of the newly formed GNOME Foundation: establishment of GNOME as the unifying desktop for Linux and UNIX; adoption of OpenOffice.org technologies for integration into GNOME; integration of the Mozilla browser into GNOME; collaboration among industry players to improve the quality, reliability, and accessibility of GNOME; and establishment of the GNOME framework as the standard for Internet access devices, or appliances.

Support for the first of these initiatives came from HP and Sun, who announced they are adopting GNOME as the future default environment for HP-UX and Solaris, respectively. Since GNOME is already the default for Red hat, TurboLinux, and a number of other Linux distributions, de Icaza hailed the moves by HP and Sun as major steps toward "unifying variations of UNIX and Linux" under a single user environment.

Both companies went further, unveiling other efforts that drive adoption of GNOME. HP promised to pursue technologies that will provide interoperability between HP's three strategies operating systems: Linux, HP-UX, and Windows NT. And Sun said it is providing printing, internationalization, and accessibility technology to the GNOME initiatives. Sun, of course, touted the GNOME Foundation's decision to integrate OpenOffice.org technologies into GNOME. OpenOffice.org is based on Sun's StarOffice, an open source office suite designed to compete with Microsoft's Office.

Other vendors joining the new foundation and announcing support for GNOME include Eazel, which will provide its Nautilus file manager; Gnumatic, which is developing GnuCash, a personal finance manager for Linux; and Helix Code, which will provide Evolution, an integrated calendar, mail, and contacts systems.

In attempting to establish GNOME in the Internet appliance market, the foundation is developing a framework for developers and manufacturers of devices and for developers of Internet-based software. As part of this initiative, Compaq said it is attempting to make GNOME-based applications available on its handhelds and is also assisting developers through the handhelds.org community and GNOME Foundation.

IBM and Red Hat also jumped on the bandwagon, with IBM promising application development tools to enable development of Web-based applications using open Web standard languages (HTML, Javascript, DHTML, and XML) that have the look and feel of other "native" applications. Red Hat said it will provide an object-oriented widget framework, CORBA, an OMG industry standard, support for distributed software, layout, and rendering of internationalized text and configuration management technology.

What these big plans means for the industry and for the future of Linux remains to be seen. Although the GNOME Foundation aims to provide an alternative to Microsoft on the desktop, no one is predicting the early demise of Microsoft's Office suite. More important, perhaps, support for GNOME further divides a market in which a number of vendors are committed to an alternative user interface, KDE. That split could provide some barriers to establishing Linux on the desktop.