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“The GNOME Way”: Flatpak is the future, the traditional desktop is dead

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Tobias Bernard, Purism designer who contributes to GNOME, has published an interesting entry in the official blogs of the environment in which he explains, according to his point of view, the direction that the project has taken, in addition to remembering its principles and motivations.

The entry posted by Tobias Bernard is the fourth part of a series called “Community Power” that covers everything involved in the project, from the foundation, the individual developers and the maintainers to the approach, the purposes and how they carry out the projects. Things.

In the fourth part of the series, which is titled “The GNOME Way”, the contributor begins by recalling the values ​​and motivations, mentioning that from the project they believe in the freedom of software as an inclusive and responsible model to produce technology, the fact that GNOME software is built so that everyone can use it and that “the software must be structurally and aesthetically elegant, both in terms of underlying technology and user interface ” .

In the third section of the entry, which covers “the what”, Bernard remembers that in GNOME they try to eliminate all distractions present in the environment and its applications. That approach has been clearly embodied in GNOME Shell, which over the years has eliminated features that designers and developers have deemed unnecessary.

Tobias Bernard is quite forceful in stating explicitly that each preference has a cost , and this cost increases exponentially as more is added ” . In other words, each added preference adds complexity, hence GNOME developers prefer to avoid preferences as much as possible and focus their efforts on solving the underlying problems.

Fedora 34 Workstation with GNOME 40

Fedora 34 Workstation with GNOME 40

The elimination of redundant or unnecessary elements not only covers the user interface, but also the development of the products. Here it is mentioned that each unnecessary variable removed opens up opportunities for the inclusion of new functions and that third-party applications are the best abstraction to extend the main system with additional functionalities, so in GNOME they strive so that third-party developers can create more and best apps. At this point, it may be interesting to recall the initiative GNOME Circle, which is an attempt to expand the application ecosystem.

In the “how” section, some of the good practices that are followed in development are mentioned. From this point, it can be noted that those responsible for the environment prefer to go to the root of a problem instead of applying superficial corrections , which makes the process difficult by having to investigate more, but in return they offer solutions available to everyone.

In keeping with good practice, also noteworthy are the vision of design as something holistic rather than exclusive to the design team, the invention of new paradigms better (according to Tobias Bernard) than those of the competition, and the rule of thumb to start with. the user experience that you want to create and then develop the technologies to achieve that goal.

Too many concepts that seem abstract or tied to software development? Bernard has bothered to lay out, from his perspective, some examples of things in which his argument would materialize in the real world:

  • Application developers must make their own packages. It’s the only way to do it sustainably at scale.
  • Flatpak is the future of app distribution (this points to be tied to the above).
  • The “traditional desk” is dead and will not return. Instead of trying to bring back old concepts like menu bars or status icons, come up with something better from first principles.
  • System-wide topics are a broken idea. In case you don’t like the appearance of the applications, it would be better to contribute directly to them or to the aesthetic style of the platform.
  • Extensions for the Shell will always be a niche thing. If you want a real impact, your thing is to spend time working on the environment or official applications.

Tobias Bernard’s conclusions should not surprise us, because the relationship between Red Hat, Fedora and GNOME is quite close and Red Hat is the main driver of technologies such as systemd, PipeWire and Flatpak, which results in a clear approach to the type of system Linux operating system that is intended to be offered.

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