July 29, 2010

GNOME 3.0 Slips to 2011

During GUADEC 2010, the GNOME Release Team met and decided to hold the GNOME 3.0 release for the March 2011 release instead of September 2010. Even though it means an additional six months to GNOME 3.0 is officially released, it could be a good thing.

So, why is GNOME 3.0 slipping? That was the first question I had for GNOME's Executive Director and GNOME developer Vincent Untz when they contacted me earlier this week. The simple answer is that the GNOME Release Team evaluated the components that make up GNOME 3.0 and decided that they're not ready to go gold. GNOME 3.0 is more ambitious than the average GNOME release.

Understanding GNOME Releases

GNOME releases come out every six months like clockwork. OK, it'd be a very slow clock, but that's the idea — GNOME is released on a predictable schedule because it's consumed by a lot of downstream projects like Debian, Fedora, openSUSE, Ubuntu, and others. Those projects have release schedules that they're aiming to hit, and they have an easier time planning their releases when the core components of the distribution have set release schedules.

The way to hit these release dates is to have a schedule with set deadlines for feature freeze, etc. GNOME developers will work towards features that are on the roadmap for usual releases, but if they're not done in time for those deadlines, they're held for the next release. This way GNOME can have a predictable release cycle with quality releases. Trying to force features in that aren't quite ready isn't a good answer, because it would degrade the user and/or developer experience around GNOME — and nobody wants that.

Delaying releases is also undesirable because it would mean throwing a monkey wrench in the schedules of downstream projects. So, when features aren't ready they simply get pushed back.

GNOME 3.0 is a bit different, because the 3.0 denotes specific features and plans for the platform like GNOME Shell, GTK 3.0, accessibility for 3.0, and the documentation and materials that will accompany them. The release team felt that while it would be possible to ship GNOME 3.0 in September, it would be of better quality and more complete with an additional six months.

Ship When It's Time

The project will still have a release in September, but it will be GNOME 2.32 and not 3.0. Users will still see bugfixes, performance improvements, and new features. GNOME will have also have a preview release of GNOME 3.0 in September. I've been using GNOME Shell, for instance, on my Fedora 13 machine already. It's stable enough to use for day to day work, just not quite as feature-complete as the team would like.

One of the benefits of open source is that projects like GNOME have few incentives to ship software before it's ready. GNOME has no sales targets to make; shipping 2.32 instead of 3.0 in September doesn't impact the "bottom line" because there isn't one.

What about GNOME downstreams, like the Linux vendors that ship GNOME? Again, being an open source project has its advantages. The vendors who depend on GNOME are also the ones who employ the majority of GNOME contributors and ensure that GNOME moves forward. The downstream stakeholders have as much say as anyone in delaying a release. The downstream community for GNOME will have a release to use in September, but it will be the 2.32 release instead.

That's not going to disrupt any of the distributions too badly. Fedora will likely ship another 3.0 preview alongside 2.32. The next Ubuntu release was already planned around GNOME 2.3x technologies. For example, Ubuntu wasn't set to include GNOME Shell in 10.10, so this will be a very minimal disruption. openSUSE's next release isn't set to pop until March 2011, so they have plenty of time to adjust (and maybe even slip slightly to include GNOME 3.0...).

That's not to say there's no downside to the slip. Plenty of users are excited about GNOME 3.0. It will contain a lot of improvements for end users and developers. But experienced users know how they can get their hands on preview releases and enjoy pretty much the same code that they'd have had if we called it GNOME 3.0 anyway.

That's a nice thing about free software — the development is out there to see the whole time. Nobody has to wait for GNOME to officially dub it 3.0 to dig in. Whether you're a GNOME enthusiast, or if you want to jump in and and contribute you can do so with no barriers.

So, the bad news is GNOME 3.0 isn't arriving until March 2011. The good news is that it's here now and you can start using it right away; it's just not "official" yet.

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