Montreal 2011

October 8, 2011

So I’m at the GNOME Summit in Montreal, and so far it’s looking good. We have a lot of sessions lined up, and a good collection of core GNOME hackers here, along with some interested outsiders.

One thing that’s been on my mind a bit is that I’m now approaching about 10 years of contributing to GNOME. Now, GNOME is two things – the people, and the code. We have a lot of good code, and some bad code. But when I originally got involved, it was more the people, probably most by Havoc Pennington. He’s one of those rare people that had a grasp of a lot of issues, and can both write well-reasoned English, and also write a lot of good code.

What I hope to do by both action and word is pass down to the next generation of GNOME hackers that are coming in now some of those principles and ideas that have guided the project, and heavily influenced me. Havoc’s blog has a lot of good stuff – I’d start with his Free Software UI post.

If you know me, then you also know that I really care about quality in Free Software. One thing Havoc doesn’t explicitly mention is that many preferences and settings (and system state) interact with other preferences and settings. In the GNOME 2 days for example, we just never figured out how upgrades would work if you customized the panel at all. For example, if you moved the clock, what would happen if a UI redesign integrated the clock closely with another applet? There’s a huge intersection of concerns here, and in practice it was entirely possible after upgrades you’d get a half-state between the two. It was gross.

In particular, what I as a software engineer live in mortal fear of is combinatorial explosion. The number of possible states exponentially grows as options and system states change, and that kind of thing makes QA and testing near-impossible. Besides just being bad UI, it makes the entire system buggy. And to me, that’s not what GNOME is about, because I’m following in the footsteps of those who came before.

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